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Social Organization, Collective Sentiment, and Legal Sanctions in Murder Cases

Eric P. Baumer and Kimberly H. Martin
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 119, No. 1 (July 2013), pp. 131-182
DOI: 10.1086/672082
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/672082
Page Count: 52
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Social Organization, Collective Sentiment, and Legal Sanctions in Murder Cases
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Abstract

The traditional “jurisprudential model” of law views the application of legal sanctions primarily as a function of the facts of the case and the rules that govern the proceedings. Sociology of law scholars have challenged this model on theoretical grounds, arguing persuasively that law is variable and often yields patterns that parallel broader considerations of community social organization and collective sentiment. The authors' analysis yields evidence that the certainty and severity of sanctions for murder cases are heightened where social capital is more plentiful, religious fundamentalist values more prevalent, and support for punitive sanctions is greater. They also find that sentences given to murder defendants are longer in areas in which the public expresses higher levels of fear. Overall, the findings provide provocative evidence that legal outcomes in murder cases are influenced by several features of the social environments in which they are processed.

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