The Penalty Phase of the Capital Murder Trial

A Social-Psychological Analysis

Authored by: Mark Costanzo , Zoey Costanzo

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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Whether a defendant receives the most severe punishment available in the American legal system—the death penalty—is determined by a unique legal proceeding: the penalty phase of the capital murder trial. The penalty phase begins after the guilt phase ends. The defendant, who has now been found guilty of a capital crime, is tried by jury to answer a single question: should the defendant be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or should he be sentenced to death by execution? This question cannot be answered merely by analyzing the facts of the case. Because the only question is whether or not the defendant deserves to be executed for this crime, testimony and arguments presented during the penalty phase focus on issues of morality, motivation, justice, free choice, and the psychological history of the defendant. Perhaps more than any other legal decision, the penalty phase decision relies on arguments grounded in human psychology.

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