Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 81-93

First online:

The death-qualified jury and the defense of insanity

  • Phoebe C. EllsworthAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Stanford University
  • , Raymond M. BukatyAffiliated withKadison, Psgelzer, Woodward, Quinn and Rossi
  • , Claudia L. CowanAffiliated withAttorney at Law
  • , William C. ThompsonAffiliated withProgram in Social Ecology, University of California-Irvine


We predicted that people who are excluded from serving on juries in capital cases due to their opposition to the death penalty (excludable subjects) tend to place a greater value on the preservation of due process guarantees than on efficient crime control, and therefore are more likely to accept an insanity defense in criminal cases than are people who are permitted to serve on capital juries (death-qualified subjects). Subjects who had previously been classified as death-qualified or excludable read four summaries of cases in which the defendant entered a plea of insanity, and made judgments of guilt or innocence. In the two cases involving nonorganic disorders (schizophrenia), death-qualified subjects were significantly more likely than excludable subjects to vote guilty; in the two cases involving organic disorders (mental retardation and psychomotor epilepsy), there were no differences between the two groups. In addition, excludable subjects gave significantly higher estimates than death-qualified subjects of the proportion of defendants pleading insanity who “really are” insane.