Death Penalty Cases

History of Research on Death Penalty Juries

With increased focus on courtrooms, legal studies have become more popular in recent years, particularly with respect to jury bias.  The following is a brief summary of studies concerning differences in death penalty jury decisions.


Friend and Vinson

Found that more physically attractive defendants charged with killing pedestrians while driving intoxicated received more lenient sentences than unattractive defendants.


Hindson, Potter, and Radelet

Found that defendants who murder females are more likely to receive a death sentence than those who murder males.


Beckham, Spray, and Pietz

Found that the attractiveness of the defendant does not influence sentencing, but the juror’s age and gender do significantly influence sentencing decisions.  Men, except the youngest men, were more likely than women to choose the death penalty.  The youngest women were more likely than the older women to choose the death penalty.

Williams, Demuth, and Holcomb

Found that both victim gender and race are associated with death sentencing outcomes in that there is a large difference between the likelihood of receiving a death sentence and the disparate victim race-gender groups.  In particular, black male victim cases show more leniency towards defendants.


Cohen and Smith

Found that districts with the highest death sentencing rates tend to be comprised of a largely African-American county surrounded by largely Caucasian counties.  For example, the Orleans Parish (New Orleans) and the Eastern District of Louisiana, St. Louis, Missouri, and the Eastern District of Missouri, Richmond and the Eastern District of Virginia, and Prince George’s County and the District of Maryland.


Beckham, C. M. et al. (2007). Jurors’ locus of control and defendants’ attractiveness in death penalty sentencing. Journal of Social Psychology, 147(3), 285-298.  Retrieved from

Cohen, G. B. & Smith, R. J. (2010). The racial geography of the federal death penalty. Washington Law Review, 85(3), 425-492. Retrieved from

Williams, M. et al. (2007). Understanding the influence of victim gender in death penalty cases: The importance of victim race, sex-related victimization, and jury decision making. Criminology, 45(4), 865-891. Retrieved from

Presented by: Ashley DuVal

Cohen, G. B. & Smith, R. J. (2010). The racial geography of the federal death penalty. Washington Law Review, 85(3), 425-492.

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