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The effects of death qualification on jurors' predisposition to convict and on the quality of deliberation

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Law and Human Behavior


This study provides a straightforward test of the proposition that people who are permitted to serve on juries in capital cases (death-qualified jurors) are more likely to convict a defendant than are people who are excluded from serving on capital juries due to their unwillingness to impose the death penalty (excludable jurors). A sample of 288 subjects classified as death-qualified or excludable under theWitherspoon standard watched a 2 1/2-hour videotape of a simulated homicide trial including the judge's instructions, and gave an initial verdict. Death-qualified subjects were significantly more likely than excludable subjects to vote guilty, both on the initial ballot and after an hour's deliberation in 12-person juries. Nine juries were composed entirely of death-qualified subjects (death-qualified juries), while 10 contained from 2 to 4 excludable subjects (mixed juries). On postdeliberation measures, with initial death-penalty attitudes controlled, subjects who had served on the mixed juries were generally more critical of the witnesses, less satisfied with their juries, and better able to remember the evidence than subjects from the death-qualified juries, suggesting that diversity may improve the vigor, thoroughness, and accuracy of the jury's deliberations.

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This research was supported in part by the Veatch Program of the North Shore Unitarian Society and in part by the Abelard Foundation. We are grateful to John Kazubowski, executive officer of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, Gabriel Gorenstein, Hans Zeisel, and Philip G. Zimbardo for their help in various phases of the research. We are especially grateful to Reid Hastie for allowing us to use his videotape and for helping us in numerous other ways.

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Cowan, C.L., Thompson, W.C. & Ellsworth, P.C. The effects of death qualification on jurors' predisposition to convict and on the quality of deliberation. Law Hum Behav 8, 53–79 (1984).

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