The Capital Jury and Sentencing

Neither Guided Nor Individualized

Authored by: Wanda D. Foglia , Marla Sandys

Routledge Handbook on Capital Punishment

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138651579
eBook ISBN: 9781315624723
Adobe ISBN:


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The jury plays a pivotal role in the capital trial process. Beyond deciding guilt, as juries do routinely in criminal trials, the capital jury decides whether the defendant lives or dies. As Haney, Sontag, and Costanzo (1994) put it:

Capital trials are unique in American jurisprudence and, indeed, in human experience. Under no other circumstances does a group of ordinary citizens calmly and rationally contemplate taking the life of another, all the while acting under color of law.

(p. 149) Deciding whether another person should live or die is obviously an important and difficult decision, but the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the Sixth Amendment requires that ordinary citizens must make this decision (Hurst v. Florida, 2016). The Court recognizes what an “awesome” responsibility it is to decide the sentence in a capital case (Caldwell v. Mississippi, 1985, p. 329) and has established elaborate constitutional mandates for how the capital jury is to make this decision. The patchwork of constitutional requirements that has been layered onto the capital process requires the capital jury to decide whether to impose the death penalty in a way that many now believe is not humanly possible. This chapter presents a review of the empirical literature to determine whether those concerns are warranted.

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