The very contextual nature of most mitigating evidence runs counter to America’s individualistic culture. Prior research has found that capital jurors are unreceptive to most mitigating circumstances, but no research has examined the capital sentencing decisions of trial judges. This study fills that gap through a content analysis of eight judicial sentencing opinions from Delaware. The findings indicate that judges typically dismiss contextualizing evidence in their sentencing opinions and instead focus predominately on the defendant’s culpability. This finding calls into question the ability of guided discretion statutes to ensure the consideration of mitigation and limit arbitrariness in the death penalty.
The author would like to thank R. J. Maratea, Aaron Kupchik, Benjamin D. Fleury-Steiner, William J. Bowers, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript and the attorneys and court staff members who provided access to the data used in this study. This research was made possible by funding provided by a fellowship from the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware and a grant from the Proteus Action League.
Kleinstuber, R. (2014), "Mitigation versus individualism: Examining judges’ capital sentencing decisions", Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 63), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 183-221. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1059-4337(2014)0000063005Download as .RIS
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