Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

Dwayne Smith, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Thomas Loughran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sondra Fogel, Ph.D.

Keywords

homicide, death penalty, sentencing, gender, jury decision-making

Abstract

Disparities in the administration of capital punishment are a prominent social and political issue. While the focus of death penalty disparity research initially lay with the defendant and how the defendant’s race or ethnicity affects sentencing outcomes, only marginal support for offender effects has been found. A consistent finding, however, is that victim race has a significant effect on capital sentencing outcomes. Recent examinations of the joint effects of victim characteristics indicate that victim gender also has some influence in capital sentencing decisions. While these prior studies have examined the interactive effects of victim gender and victim race the current study proposes that victim-related variables other than race may be important components in understanding the female victim effect.

This analysis is focused on understanding the joint effects of victim gender in terms of identifying an “innocent female victim” effect. Based on prior studies and theoretical perspectives, three hypotheses are proposed and tested here using a sub-population of capital cases in North Carolina between the years 1990 and 2007: 1. Cases with a female victim and male defendant will be more likely to result in the death penalty than other defendant-victim gender dyads, 2. Cases with a female victim and stranger defendant will be more likely to result in the death penalty than other dyads, and 3. Cases with a female victim who was not involved in illegal activity at the time of her victimization will be more likely to result in the death penalty than other dyads. The results indicate that victim conduct (illegal activity) and victim gender both play a role in jury sentencing recommendations, but regardless of victim conduct, cases with a female victim are the most likely to result in the death penalty. Therefore, this study finds marginal support for an “innocent female victim” effect in jury decisions to recommend the death penalty, but consistent support for a “female victim” effect. Conclusions and implications of the findings are discussed.

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