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Death Penalty Attitudes and Conviction Proneness: The Translation of Attitudes into Verdicts

William C. Thompson, Claudia L. Cowan, Phoebe C. Ellsworth and Joan C. Harrington
Law and Human Behavior
Vol. 8, No. 1/2, Death Qualification (Jun., 1984), pp. 95-113
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1393477
Page Count: 19
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Death Penalty Attitudes and Conviction Proneness: The Translation of Attitudes into Verdicts
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Abstract

Attitudes toward the death penalty are consistently predictive of jurors' verdicts in criminal trials. Two studies were conducted to find out why. In Study 1, eligible jurors viewed a videotape showing conflicting testimony by a prosecution and defense witness in an assault case. "Death-qualified" subjects (those permitted to serve on capital juries) interpreted testimony in a manner more favorable to the prosecution than "excludable" subjects (those excluded from serving on juries in capital cases due to their opposition to the death penalty), suggesting that differing interpretations of evidence may mediate the relationship between attitudes toward the death penalty and verdicts. In Study 2, the same jurors indicated their reactions to a number of hypothetical situations in which a jury had convicted an innocent defendant or acquitted a guilty one. "Death qualified" subjects expressed less regret concerning erroneous convictions and more regret concerning erroneous acquittals than "excludable" subjects. Theoretical interpretations of this pattern of results suggest that "death qualified" subjects may have a lower threshold of conviction than "excludable" subjects; thus the relationship between attitudes toward the death penalty and verdicts may also be mediated by differing thresholds of conviction.

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