The Importance Of Sentencing Instructions

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Sentencing Instructions

At the conclusion of the penalty phase, jurors are instructed by the judge on how to determine the existence of aggravating and/or mitigating factors, as well Sources of Bias and Arbitrariness 117 learned from the judge’s instructions)? Jurors do rather well in understanding the criteria of proof for aggravating factors, as the criteria of proof fit with their expectations (Luginbuhl, 1992) Luginbuhl said revised instructions should put the life-or-death decision in context for jurors by explaining, for example, crucial differences between mitigating and aggravating factors. Jurors do much more poorly in their comprehension of the requirement of proof for mitigating circumstances. Significant minorities (and sometimes
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Such misunderstanding with regard to mitigation seems likely to reduce the probability that jurors would find mitigation, which in turn would increase the likelihood of their voting for death. Additionally, jurors have difficulty in understanding how to “weigh” the importance of aggravating and mitigating factors and what the consequences of this weighing should be. At the conclusion of the penalty phase of a capital trial, the judge thus would read the pattern instructions describing how the jurors are to determine the existence and evaluate the significance of aggravating and mitigating factors. Pattern instructions, however, have typically not been selected or developed for their comprehensibility. Instead they have been chosen because they have survived prior court challenges, indicating that the law has been stated in legally correct terms, or they have been developed with the intent of stating the law in a manner that will survive legal challenge. Thus the emphasis is on presenting the law in terms that are legally correct, not in stating the law in terms the jurors can understand. Steele and Thornburg 1988) point out that the use of instructions …show more content…
Also, Sources of Bias and Arbitrariness 2 recently reported that South Carolina jurors who voted for life thought that a defendant sentenced to life would serve a mean of 22.9 years in prison, while those who voted for death thought a defendant sentenced to life would serve a mean of only 16.5 years, a statistically significant difference. Whether a defendant can ever be paroled also appears to be important to jurors. Even in a state where a defendant may not be eligible for parole for 30 years, many jurors apparently vote for death out of fear that the defendant could still be dangerous when paroled. In North Carolina, which has only the options of life (with parole eligibility in 20 years) or death, over 50% of the jurors interviewed said they would prefer the option of life without possibility of parole to the death penalty (Luginbuhl,1993).2 It should be noted that these results come from jurors who had sat on a capital case and thus were supporters of he death penalty. More attention, therefore, should be paid to how jurors interpret the lack of information about parole eligibility. It would appear that if states had an option of life without parole, a defendant would be less likely to be sentenced to death by a jury motivated by a concern that the defendant would be released onto the streets in the future and continue

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