Advertisement

Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 337–358 | Cite as

Discrimination and Instructional Comprehension: Guided Discretion, Racial Bias, and the Death Penalty

  • Mona Lynch
  • Craig Haney
Article

Abstract

This study links two previously unrelated lines of research: the lack of comprehension of capital penalty-phase jury instructions and discriminatory death sentencing. Jury-eligible subjects were randomly assigned to view one of four versions of a simulated capital penalty trial in which the race of defendant (Black or White) and the race of victim (Black or White) were varied orthogonally. Dependent measures included a sentencing verdict (life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty), ratings of penalty phase evidence, and a test of instructional comprehension. Results indicated that instructional comprehension was poor overall and that, although Black defendants were treated only slightly more punitively than White defendants in general, discriminatory effects were concentrated among participants whose comprehension was poorest. In addition, the use of penalty phase evidence differed as a function of race of defendant and whether the participant sentenced the defendant to life or death. The study suggest that racially biased and capricious death sentencing may be in part caused or exacerbated by the inability to comprehend penalty phase instructions.

Keywords

Social Psychology Dependent Measure Death Penalty Death Sentencing Discriminatory Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. American Bar Association (1997). Recommendation and Report as Approved by the ABA House of Delegates, February 3, 1997.Google Scholar
  2. Applegate, B., Wright, J., Dunaway, R., Cullen, F., and Wooldredge, J. (1993). Victim–offender race and support for capital punishment: A factorial design approach. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 18, 95-115.Google Scholar
  3. Baldus, D., Woodworth, G., and Pulaski, C. (1990). Equal justice and the death penalty: A legal empirical analysis. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Black, D. (1989). Sociological justice. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bodenhausen, G. V. (1988). Stereotypic biases in social decision making and memory: Testing process models of stereotypic use. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 726-737.Google Scholar
  6. Bodenhausen, G. V., and Lichtenstein, M. (1987). Social stereotypes and information processing strategies: The impact of task complexity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 871-880.Google Scholar
  7. Bodenhausen, G. V., and Wyer, R. S. (1985). Effects of stereotypes on decision-making and informationprocessing strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 267-282.Google Scholar
  8. Bowers, W., & Steiner, B. (1999). Death by default: An empirical demonstration of false and forced choices in capital sentencing. Texas Law Review, 77, 605-717.Google Scholar
  9. Chaiken, S. (1987). The heuristic model of persuasion. In M. Zanna, J. Olson, and C. Herman (Eds.), Social influence: The Ontario Symposium, Vol. 5 (pp. 3-39). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Charrow, R., and Charrow, V. (1979). Making legal language understandable: A psycholinguistic study of jury instructions. Columbia Law Review, 52, 386-407.Google Scholar
  11. Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  12. Diamond, S. (1993). Instructing on death: Psychologists, juries, and judges. American Psychologist, 48, 423-434.Google Scholar
  13. Duncan, B. L. (1976). Differential social perception and attribution of intergroup violence: Testing the lower limits of stereotyping of Blacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 590-598.Google Scholar
  14. Eisenberg, T., and Wells, M. (1993). Deadly confusion: Juror instructions in capital cases. Cornell Law Review, 79, 1-52.Google Scholar
  15. Elwork, A., Sales, B., and Alfini, J. (1982). Making jury instructions understandable. Charlottesville, VA: Michie.Google Scholar
  16. Fiske, S., and Taylor, S. (1991). Social cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  17. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).Google Scholar
  18. Gaertner, S. L., and Dovidio, J. F. (1986). The aversive form of racism. In J. F. Dovidio and S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Prejudice, discrimination, and racism (pp. 61-89). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  19. Goodman, J., and Greene, E. (1989). The use of paraphrase analysis in the simplification of jury instructions. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 4, 237-251.Google Scholar
  20. Gordon, R., Bindrim, T., McNicholas, M., and Walden, T. (1988). Perceptions of blue-collar and whitecollar crime: The effect of defendant race on simulated juror decisions. Journal of Social Psychology, 128, 191-197.Google Scholar
  21. Government Accounting Office (1990). Death penalty sentencing: Research indicates pattern of racial disparities (Report to Senate and House Committee on the Judiciary, 101st Congress, 2d Session). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  22. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).Google Scholar
  23. Gross, S., and Mauro, R. (1989). Death and discrimination. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Haney, C. (1995a). The social context of capital murder: Social histories and the logic of mitigation.Santa Clara Law Review, 35, 547-609.Google Scholar
  25. Haney, C. (1995b). Taking capital jurors seriously. Indiana Law Journal, 70, 1223-1232.Google Scholar
  26. Haney, C. (1997a). Commonsense justice and capital punishment: Problematizing the “will of the people.” Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 3, 303-337.Google Scholar
  27. Haney, C. (1997b). Violence and the capital jury: Mechanisms of moral disengagement and the impulse to condemn to death. Stanford Law Review, 49, 1447-1486.Google Scholar
  28. Haney, C., Hurtado, A. and Vega, L. (1994). “Modern” death qualification: New data on its biasing effects. Law and Human Behavior, 18, 619-633.Google Scholar
  29. Haney, C., and Lynch, M. (1994). Comprehending life and death matters: A preliminary study of California's capital penalty instructions. Law and Human Behavior, 18, 411-436.Google Scholar
  30. Haney, C., and Lynch, M. (1997). Clarifying life and death matters. An analysis of instructional comprehension and penalty phase arguments. Law and Human Behavior, 20, 575-595.Google Scholar
  31. Haney, C., Sontag, L., and Costanzo, S. (1994). Deciding to take a life: Capital juries, sentencing instructions, and the jurisprudence of death. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 149-176.Google Scholar
  32. Haney, C., and Sweeney, L. (1998). Race and capital sentencing: Another look at discriminatory death penalties. Unpublished Manuscript, University of California, Santa Cruz, California.Google Scholar
  33. Hill, E., and Pfeifer, J. (1992). Nullification instructions and juror guilt ratings: An examination of modern racism. Contemporary Social Psychology, 16, 6-10.Google Scholar
  34. Keil, T., and Vito, G. (1989). Race, homicide severity, and application of the death penalty: A consideration of the Barnett Scale. Criminology, 27, 511-535.Google Scholar
  35. Luginbuhl, J., and Burkhead, M. (1994). Sources of bias and arbitrariness in the capital trial. Journal of Social Issues, 50, 103-124.Google Scholar
  36. Luginbuhl, J., and Howe, J. (1995). Discretion in capital sentencing instructions: Guided or misguided? Indiana Law Journal, 70, 1161-1182.Google Scholar
  37. Lungren, D., and Krotoski, M. (1995). The Racial Justice Act of 1994—Undermining enforcement of the death penalty without promoting racial justice. University of Dayton Law Review, 20, 655-697.Google Scholar
  38. Mazzella, R., and Feingold, A. (1994). The effects of physical attractiveness, race, socioeconomic status, and gender of defendants and victims on judgments of mock jurors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 1315-1344.Google Scholar
  39. Meertens, R., and Pettigrew, T. (1997). Is subtle prejudice really prejudice? Public Opinion Quarterly, 61, 54-71.Google Scholar
  40. Morgan v. Illinois, 112 S.Ct. 2222 (1992).Google Scholar
  41. Pettigrew, T., and Meertens, R. (1995). Subtle and blatant prejudice in Western Europe. European Journal of Social Psychology, 25, 57-75.Google Scholar
  42. Petty, R., and Cacioppo, J. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 19 (pp. 123-205).NewYork: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  43. Pfeifer, J., and Ogloff, J. (1991). Ambiguity and guilt determinations: A modern racism perspective.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21, 1713-1725.Google Scholar
  44. Rector, N., Bagby, R., and Nicholson, R. (1993). The effect of prejudice and judicial ambiguity on defendant guilt ratings. Journal of Social Psychology, 133, 651-659.Google Scholar
  45. Reifman, A., Gusick, S., and Ellsworth, P. (1992). Real jurors' understanding of the law in real cases. Law and Human Behavior, 16, 539-554.Google Scholar
  46. Sagar, H. A., and Schofield, J. W. (1980). Racial and behavioral cues in Black and White children's perceptions of ambiguously aggressive cues. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 590-598.Google Scholar
  47. Severence, L., and Loftus, E. (1982). Improving the ability of jurors to comprehend and apply criminal jury instructions. Law and Society Review, 17, 153-198.Google Scholar
  48. Sorenson, J., and Wallace, D. (1995). Capital punishment in Missouri: Examining the issue of racial disparity. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 13, 61-80.Google Scholar
  49. Stephan, C., and Stephan, W. (1986). Habla Ingles? The effects of language translation on simulated juror instructions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16, 577-589.Google Scholar
  50. Sweeney, L., and Haney, C. (1992). The influence of race on sentencing: A meta-analytic review of experimental studies. Behavioral Science and Law, 10, 179-195.Google Scholar
  51. Tiersma, P. (1995). Dictionaries and death: Do capital jurors understand mitigation? Utah Law Review, 1995, 1-49.Google Scholar
  52. Ugwuegbu, D. C. E. (1979). Racial and evidential factors in juror attribution of legal responsibility.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15, 136-146.Google Scholar
  53. Wiener, R., Hurt, L., Thoma S., Sadler M., Bauer C., and Sargent, T. (1998). The role of declarative and procedural knowledge in capital murder sentencing. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28, 124-144.Google Scholar
  54. Wiener, R., Pritchard, C., and Weston, M. (1995). Comprehensibility of approved jury instructions in capital murder cases. Journal of Applied Psychology, 80, 455-467.Google Scholar
  55. Wainright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985).Google Scholar
  56. Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychology Association 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mona Lynch
    • 1
  • Craig Haney
    • 2
  1. 1.Administration of Justice ProgramCalifornia State UniversitySan Jose
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta Cruz

Personalised recommendations