Graduation Year

2005

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

John K. Cochran.

Keywords

Death penalty, Aggravating circumstances, Mitigating circumstances, Race discrimination, Jury

Abstract

This study analyzed case and sentencing data from 632 capital cases involving Black and White defendants and victims, processed in North Carolina from May 1990 through December 2002. Logistic regression analysis of all cases and race-specific data allowed assessment of the variable effects of jury acceptance of statutory aggravating and mitigating factors on capital sentencing outcomes (death versus life). The purpose was to evaluate the role race plays in shaping jury use of legally defined factors in capital sentencing. Significant variance in the effect of jury acceptance of aggravators was observed between Black and White defendants. Black defendants pay a higher premium in terms of the risk of a death sentence than do White defendants whose crimes are comparably aggravated.

There was no overall disparity in the effect of jury acceptance of mitigatory factors observed, although certain mitigators reduced the risk of a death sentence significantly more for Black or White. Overall, the aggravators had a statistically significantly stronger effect on sentencing outcomes than did the mitigators, regardless of race, and on cases involving Black defendants, regardless of victim race. Racial invariance was not shown.

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