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Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What Do Jurors Think?

Stephen P. Garvey
Columbia Law Review
Vol. 98, No. 6 (Oct., 1998), pp. 1538-1576
DOI: 10.2307/1123305
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123305
Page Count: 39
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Aggravation and Mitigation in Capital Cases: What Do Jurors Think?
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Abstract

The Capital Juror Project in South Carolina interviewed jurors who sat in forty-one capital murder cases. The Project asked jurors a range of questions relating to crime, the defendant, the victim, the victim's family, the jurors' deliberations, the conduct of counsel, and background characteristics of the jurors. In this essay, Professor Stephen P. Garvey presents and examines data from the Project relating to the importance jurors attach to various aggravating and mitigating factors. The results suggest that jurors have a discernible moral compass. According to the data, jurors found especially brutal killings, killings with child victims, future dangerousness, and lack of remorse to be significant aggravating factors. Conversely, jurors pointed to residual doubt over the defendant's guilt, evidence of mental retardation, youthfulness, circumstances over which the defendant had no control and which diminished his individual responsibility, and circumstances that helped form the defendant's character as mitigating factors. The findings provide valuable information to policymakers responsible for structuring the capital sentencing process and to attorneys involved in litigating capital cases.

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