Mentor: Dr. Lora Levett
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
"I applied to the University Scholars program because it offered me an incredible opportunity to perform research that enriches my undergraduate studies and gives me valuable experience that will benefit my future career in law. I hope my research will shed light on possible gaps in the legal system and prompt further questions on the psychological aspects behind jury decision-making."
Criminology and Law
Psychology and Law
Law and Business
Ambassadors of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Golden Key International Honour Society
Hobbies and Interests
Capital Punishment and Jury Decision Making
Empirical evidence has shown that death-qualified jurors are more likely to convict in capital cases than non-death qualified jurors (Jurow, 1971). In the studies that have investigated the effect of death qualification on jurors’ decision, death is always an optional punishment for the defendant. However, it is possible that including death as a punishment changes decision making for both death-qualified and non-death qualified jurors. It is possible that including death as a punishment increases the threshold jurors use for the standard of proof. That is, it is possible that defendants in non-death penalty states who are convicted of crimes similar to defendants in death penalty states are actually more likely to be convicted because as the seriousness of the punishment goes up, so does the standard of proof used by the jurors (whether they are death qualified or not). The primary research interest of this project is to explore whether individuals serving as jurors are influenced by the severity of a defendant’s potential sentence when trying a case. That is, it will examine whether the knowledge of the potential punishment affects a juror’s likeliness of conviction. To investigate this, the group of jurors will be divided into death qualified and non-death qualified through the use of a survey examining jurors’ feelings toward capital punishment. The survey will resemble the questioning used during the process of voir dire (i.e., the jury selection process). Once the survey is completed, each juror will be randomly assigned to act as a juror in one of two cases. Both cases will be identical in nature, involving the same defendant, crime and evidence. The only difference between the cases will be the defendant’s potential punishment. Case A will be a capital case (representing the case if it were tried in a death penalty state) and case B will solely involve life imprisonment (representing the case if it were tried in a non-death penalty state). Ultimately, the conviction rates of both conditions will be measured. We hope to replicate the literature—which finds death-qualified jurors more conviction prone than non-death qualified jurors in capital cases—when considering the conviction rates regarding case A. However, we hypothesize that when the death penalty is not an option, both death-qualified and non-death qualified jurors will be equally likely to convict, and both groups will be more likely to convict than death qualified jurors in the capital case. This would suggest that death qualified jurors are actually less conviction prone in capital cases versus cases in which life without parole is the maximum penalty.