Mock Jurors' Ratings of Mitigating Value in Capital Mitigation: Role of Impairment and Defendant Effort

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Title: Mock Jurors' Ratings of Mitigating Value in Capital Mitigation: Role of Impairment and Defendant Effort
Author: Weeks, Stephanie Wright
Advisors: James Luginbuhl, Chair
Kitty Klein, Member
Denis Gray, Member
Sharolyn Converse-Lane, Member
Abstract: Applying attribution theory to capital sentencing decisions, it was hypothesized that temporal location of mitigation (suggesting defendant impairment) and level of defendant effort would affect mock jurors' ratings of mitigating value and subsequent life v. death votes. This was tested experimentally in a 2 (type of mitigation: proximal v. remote-chronic) x 2 (defendant effort: high v. low) design with 240 university psychology students. Two sentencing scenarios were nested within each level of type of mitigation. Thus, participants received one of eight sentencing scenarios. Participants rated the evidence on a variety of dimensions, including perceived defendant impairment, effort and responsibility. They also assigned mitigating value to the circumstances presented in the scenarios and indicated a final penalty vote (life in prison or death). Multivariate analysis of variance results indicated that outcomes were affected by whether the mitigation had a recent or distant onset, but they were not affected by the level of defendant effort. The mitigating value rating was a significant predictor of the vote for life, as more mitigating value was associated with an increased likelihood of voting for life. Supplementary analyses indicated that perceived impairment was a significant mediator of the relationship between mitigating value and the vote for life. When controlling for perceptions of impairment, the predictive power of mitigating value was diminished. These results support previous qualitative and exploratory experimental research concerning the efficacy of capital mitigation.
Date: 2002-04-04
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology

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