Robert Dunham 0:01

Hello, and welcome to Discussions with DPIC. I’m Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Meredith Rountree, a senior lecturer at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Professor Rountree has represented capital defendants in Arizona, Washington, and Texas. She was the founder of the University of Texas School of Law’s Capital Punishment Center, and co-directed its Capital Punishment Clinic. She now researches and teaches criminal law and criminal justice, with an emphasis on how mental illness affects people’s interactions with the law and legal institutions. Professor Rountree and her co-author University of Texas sociology professor, Dr. Mary Rose, recently completed a new study, The Complexities of Conscience: Reconciling Death Penalty Law with Capital Jurors’ Concerns. The study, published in the December 2021 issue of the University at Buffalo Law Review, examined verdict forms from 176 federal death penalty juries. The researchers analyzed jurors’ responses to three major areas of evidence that jurors credited as reasons to spare defendants lives: execution-impact evidence, non-death sentences for co-participants in a crime, and failures by government entities — such as schools, social service agencies, and courts, among others — that may have had a harmful effect on the defendant’s development. We’ll be talking with Professor Rountree about the study results and what they tell us about the death penalty. Meredith Rountree, thank you for joining us on Discussions with DPIC.

Meredith Rountree 1:29

It’s such a pleasure. Thank you so much for the invitation to come and visit with you and thank you for your interest in our work.

Robert Dunham 1:35

Our pleasure. Jury deliberations are one of the great secrets of the legal process. They take place literally behind closed doors, and courts go to great lengths to shield the process from outside review. But one way we can learn something about what juries are thinking is by taking a look at what they write on verdict slips. Could you give our listeners a brief overview of your research on capital juries and what you learned about how juries make their life and death decisions?

Meredith Rountree 2:02

Absolutely. And I really think that you’ve put your finger on really what intrigued us the most about the data that we have for this project. We know very, very little in general about how juries reach their decisions. There are different types of simulations or experiments or vignette studies, etc. But what we found in the data that is the basis for this study was a chance to see how the jurors were going about answering critical questions in whether to sentence someone to life or death. And so what we were working with were federal death penalty verdict forms, which I hope we can talk about in a little bit. But just briefly, they gave us unparalleled detail about how jurors were thinking about the evidence that they’d received in the sentencing process and the sentencing trial. They would have heard at sentencing evidence about why the defendant deserved a more aggravated penalty, what we call aggravating evidence. And they also would hear evidence that is mitigating, evidence that suggests a punishment less than life is appropriate in this case. And these forms gave us a lot of detail about what they thought was mitigating and how many of them — how many of the 12 — thought a particular item of evidence was mitigating. And so what we did is, we translated this really rich set of verdict forms into a database. Then we chose certain questions to interrogate through the database just to see how jurors thought about this particular type of evidence. We identified three — partly because they come up a lot in capital cases, sometimes they’re excluded, so they’re an area of legal contestation. But they also to us really seemed to be part of moral decision making that — this isn’t just a survey of what jurors think matters, but it’s like how does this fit in to their moral decision making?

Robert Dunham 4:05

Now the three areas that you focused on, the ones that I mentioned earlier: execution impact, sentences for co-participants, and the general question of governmental failure. Before we go into those, I’m curious about what other kinds of factors you found influenced juries to impose life sentences, and what they didn’t seem to care about so much.

Meredith Rountree 4:27

I think that’s a hard question for me to answer at this time. So as you well know, capital trials involve a wide array of evidence. I’m very interested, for instance, in trying to understand how jurors are responding to evidence regarding mental dysfunction, and differences in for instance, how they think about or receive evidence about psychiatric illness, or trauma history, or intellectual disability or other types of intellectual dysfunctionality, as apposed to psychiatric or emotional problems. And really that’s that is my next project is too soon to tell. I will also say in general, it’s these cases are sufficiently complex, we’re very hesitant to say: this drove an outcome, it is because certain evidence was introduced the trial resulted in a life verdict or a death verdict. It’s too complex for us to get to that, but what we are able to do, and we found in this paper, is that there are certain types of mitigating factors, particularly execution-impact and co-participant evidence, that actually do seem associated they may not cause this outcome, but they are associated with it.

Robert Dunham 5:42

Most of our listeners have never seen a death penalty verdict form. What function is it supposed to serve in the federal death penalty case? And what does it look like?

Meredith Rountree 5:54

For the first question, what function does it serve? I think it serves multiple purposes, it gives attorneys an opportunity to structure their arguments about whether defense has proved, for instance, the existence of some mitigating factors, or the other side, aggravating factors. Certainly, to take the question of what do they look like, I think that will go a long way to explaining why we thought this was such a rich source of data. So unlike state forms, which tend to be fairly cursory, that they might ask a few questions, sometimes they may just ask the jury to return a life verdict or death verdict, federal verdict forms, they can go on for 25 pages. They’ll start by asking the jury whether the government has proved certain factors or allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. They have to answer that question unanimously. And then there are other parts that is the more substantial the longer part of the verdict form, where individual items of mitigation are presented to the jury, and the jury votes on them. So for instance, you know, the jury might be asked to whether they agree with the statement that the defendant’s childhood experience of extreme neglect is mitigating. And that’s what it will be, like, what was this person’s childhood experience with specifically extreme neglect. And the next one might be this defendant’s experience with an alcoholic and abusive mother was a mitigating factor, something that helps understand something about his life. So they can go into some fairly granular detail about the evidence presented, and that’s very different from what we see in the overwhelming majority of state cases. And as I think I alluded to earlier, what we’ll see is how not only are jurors at voting on these particular mitigating circumstances, but they’re giving a headcount is like, well, ten jurors agreed with that, or zero jurors agreed with another point. And so that also helped us see did this factor, did jurors care about this mitigating factor? And if so, how strong was the support for it?

Robert Dunham 8:17

Yeah, it’s really interesting, the difference between the federal and the state verdict forms. I was involved in Pennsylvania capital cases for more than 20 years and the typical verdict form there simply recited the statutory mitigating circumstances, which, as anyone who practices the death penalty law knows, are very narrow as compared to what constitutionally, a defendant is allowed to present. Do you get the sense that by having all these different mitigating circumstances enumerated, it facilitated a greater consideration of mitigating evidence, that the jurors had a better understanding of what the case for life was? And how do you think that affected their overall ability to render a fair verdict?

Meredith Rountree 9:07

So there’s a lot in there. So I would say that I believe that the federal verdict forms do a couple of important things. One is they help structure deliberations. So the jurors are given a form they need to march through and they need to vote and they need to consider these things. So I think that it gives me a greater confidence that they have considered particular items in mitigation. I also think that well-constructed verdict forms, from the defense perspective, they create a kind of narrative that certain ideas flow through the verdict form so that you can create and be reminded of the picture of childhood trauma that this individual experienced, and then how maybe that flowed into juvenile prison experience or whatever. So that does help human beings understand things when we can contextualize them within a narrative or a story. Some of the other, you know, there’s not a lot of research about what jurors are actually doing when they are reaching verdicts and there are perfectly good reasons for that. So there’s not a lot of research into what they’re doing, but there is some research that Scott Sundby did, that painted a fairly demoralizing picture. In that case, jurors just created a list of how many aggravating sort of factors or pieces of aggravating evidence were there, and how many pieces of mitigating evidence were there. And then, you know, they sort of did like, which looks like a longer list. And, you know, I don’t want to sell short the work that jurors were doing in these cases, which is very, very hard, but I think that it’s not, the decision that jurors are making and the nature of mitigating evidence, does not lend itself to list making. That there is a much more complex picture of thinking through what does it mean to have been raised in these circumstances or to have had these lived experiences? That is something I find to be really salutory, about the federal verdict forums is that they they really, I think, I’m not in those rooms, but I think it encourages a more careful and thoughtful reflection on the mitigation case.

Robert Dunham 11:32

In these federal cases, there’s a lot of negotiation and discretion about what goes into the verdict forms. And I’m curious as to whether you found any relationship between the quality of representation and the thoroughness of the forms, and the outcomes of the cases?

Meredith Rountree 11:50

No, we, you know, as I was saying earlier, there are very complex questions about, we can maybe get a picture of what the jury was thinking about, as they answered these questions about how to sentence someone. But as you all know, like the quality of representation goes into it, the resources the judge may have made available to defense counsel to explore certain evidence, so there’s a lot that goes in to these outcomes. In terms of the thoroughness of the forms that is something that we’re interested in, and we’re not quite sure how we’re going to examine it, but we worry that there actually may be some fatigue that jurors experience by having 175 mitigating factors. Is there a point of diminishing returns where maybe thoroughness should be conceived more sort of conceptually, rather than numbers of mitigating factors? But that’s one of the questions that we’re looking to examine just thinking about how jurors are feeling as they go through this.

Robert Dunham 12:54

Setting aside the question of length, did you notice a difference in in the verdict forms and cases that resulted in life sentences, as compared to the ones that resulted death sentences?

Meredith Rountree 13:04

I can talk about the outcomes that we saw for our types of evidence, but more broadly speaking, I think it’s premature to do that. One thing we did find is that the verdict forms really evolved and became much more tailored to individual cases with the passage of time. The verdict forms from early in the federal death penalty look very different from contemporary federal death penalty verdict forms. And I think that that does make a difference. But in terms of a careful analysis, we’re not in a place to opine on that.

Robert Dunham 13:37

Well, let’s talk about your three areas of mitigating evidence, the ones that you highlighted in your study. They’re interesting in a number of respects, and one of them is that every single one of them, all three of them, have had their admissibility contested. And what’s so controversial about those categories of evidence, why have some courts thought that they should be excluded?

Meredith Rountree 14:02

When the US Supreme Court was trying to think about evidence that juries, or sentencers of that type, could be allowed to hear, the foundational cases are Lockett and Eddings. The Court uses language to talk about essentially characteristics of the offender and circumstances of the crime. And that framing of the mitigating evidence, the evidence that a sentencer needs to be able to consider about what focuses on the defendent, the offender, and the crime itself, has really stuck. And since those earliest cases, the Supreme Court has really broadened its own vision of what constitutes mitigating evidence. But we do see many courts continuing to hang on to this idea of does it have to do with the defendant or does it have to do with the offense, and thinking about whether it should be admissible. And so what we see in for instance, execution-impact is some courts will say the fact that this man’s daughter will suffer if he is executed, what does that have to do with him? It has to do with her. Maybe she loves him. Maybe she loves him, despite all reason. And so it has nothing to do with him, so why should it come in?

Robert Dunham 15:26

That becomes interesting when you look at the kind of converse side of that, which is what’s called victim-impact evidence. And early on, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling saying that victim-impact evidence was unconstitutional, because it took the focus away from the moral culpability of the defendant, and injected a whole range of emotional factors and assessments of the value of the life of a particular victim. Then the US Supreme Court backed up from that, and said, well, no, we’re going to allow it in because it helps in assessing the degree of harm. If the degree of harm is relevant when it comes to the family members of the victim, how is it not relevant when it comes to the family members of the defendant?

Meredith Rountree 16:20

Certainly, we make the legal arguments that it is relevant and the idea of execution-impact, in some ways being a flip side of victim-impact. That is part of some of the legal arguments that you see in judicial opinions about why it is it this should come in. Part of what motivated me in this question is, you know, theories of punishment, theories about moral deserts — exactly what jurors are supposed to be thinking about. And if you think about one vision of justice, is that how does this punishment affect the community? What we saw is that jurors, they were very engaged with this kind of evidence. I think this is our strongest finding about having the admission, the opportunity to consider this evidence had a strong influence on outcome. Even aside from that, we just see that there’s the jurors, you know, had strong support for this, there were more jurors, on average, voted for execution-impact mitigators than they did on average for the traditional Lockett, Eddings general mitigation, that they cared about the fact that people who were innocent of this crime, were going to suffer as a result of the execution. And they thought about that in their moral decision making.

Robert Dunham 17:53

So essentially, in assessing whether the evidence is relevant, you’re in the in the position of looking at what jurors actually thought. To jurors, it was relevant.

Meredith Rountree 18:05

It was it was, and I, one of the things that motivated this whole project is a sense that, you know, courts make a lot of assumptions in all sorts of domains about how jurors would have responded to particular lawyerly arguments about whether they would have been affected by certain kinds of evidence. And I’m enough of an empiricist to think that well, we should ask jurors, what does matter to them. And again, I don’t want to say this is a survey, right? Like we are talking about linking these responses to constitutional principles. But it is an effort to bring these judicial speculations in line with the evidence that we have about what they care about.

Robert Dunham 18:55

In the law review article, you have a chart and it talks about cases in which there’s no execution-impact evidence and cases in which there is execution-impact evidence. And the numbers are striking in the difference between unanimous death sentences and unanimous life sentences, and then the cases in which the juries are split. Can you walk us through some of that?

Meredith Rountree 19:22

Sure. So there are three possible outcomes in a federal death penalty trial. The first is a death sentence and for the individual, the defendant to be sentenced to death, the jury has to be unanimous. There’s also the possibility of a life without possibility of parole sentence and that also needs to be unanimous. However, the way the federal death penalty is structured if the jury cannot arrive at a decision, if it is not unanimous about either life or death, well, then it defaults to a life without possibility of parole sentence. So we measured the three because the verdict forms will tell us by and large, which one of these three categories the jury reached.And for execution-impact evidence, the most striking was between the unanimous death and the non-unanimous verdicts. So when jurors were not asked to consider execution-impact evidence, they voted unanimously for death in about 45% of cases. So no EIE, unanimous death vote 45% of cases, as opposed to 31% of cases where they were asked to consider it. So there we have 45 versus 31. When there was no EIE mitigator, they did not reach a unanimous verdict in about 19% of cases. Whereas when it was something the jury considered, it was in about 33 and a half percent, so about double, they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. And so that, and those were both statistically significant differences.

Robert Dunham 21:16

And so that suggests with a non unanimous verdict, that the presence of the execution-impact persuaded at least some jurors, as opposed to when it wasn’t presented. That’s almost 50% more cases.

Meredith Rountree 21:30

Yeah, I really appreciate the point of thinking about what’s going on with a non-unanimous. It’s like, someone was swayed, someone had scruples, and someone thought, given this evidence, then I cannot vote for a death sentence. And others may have said, you know, this is also puts a break on me. So I think that the there’s a lot of interesting things that are happening in the non-unanimous zone.

Robert Dunham 21:56

The second type of evidence that you looked at raises a different type of practical and legal issue. And that’s the relative punishment of one participant to another. And we know the US Supreme Court has said that one of the key factors in the constitutionality of a death sentence is whether the sentence is proportional, but they’ve looked at that in terms of proportionality, as compared to other crimes, this kind of proportionality within the context of an individual case. Would you explain to our listeners, why that matters as a legal issue, and then practically what you found.

Meredith Rountree 22:39

This was interesting, because the federal prosecutions often involves multi-defendant cases, so gang cases, for instance. What jurors would be, they would be given evidence, the argument would be this person should be sentenced to death. And they would also be aware that there were other coparticipants in the crime and in the homicide, who may, for different reasons, the government may not be seeking the death penalty against them. For instance, they may have got a deal, they may be cooperating with the government, that they may be, for whatever reason, they may have worse culpability. So we had certain cases where one of the coparticipants in this homicide had been responsible for multiple other homicides, but the government did not seek the death penalty against him. And what we saw was the jurors cared about that. Now, this is a complex issue in terms of whether to admit, how much information about the other coparticipants’ activities and sentence should be admitted. It’s, that’s a whole other trial. There’s a lot of information that could come in. Do you want to be having this jury, you know, explore what the sentencing outcomes were in this other coparticipant’s case if it went to a jury, so they’re going to be reviewing that jury’s work. It is a complicated question in terms of what evidence of what a coparticipant did and to what was he sentenced? But what was clear in our data is that they really cared about coparticipant outcomes, or what was this other person sentenced to? So we, what we found in our data was that juries that evaluated verdict forms with at least one coparticipant mitigator were more than twice as likely to return a unanimous LWOP verdict than those who did not have this coparticipant factor as a mitigator. So if they had a coparticipant mitigator, they were voting for LWOP, unanimously in about 44% of the cases and in juries that did not, voted for LWOP in about 20%.

Robert Dunham 25:03

That seems like in a sense, that is juries saying: that’s just not fair.

Meredith Rountree 25:08

Well, that’s what we think. Now, obviously, there may be cases without coparticipants, and so we analyze the data to account for that. But that is fundamentally, in terms of relating these data, these findings to our argument, is the jurors are really participating in very conventional moral decision making. They’re saying it’s not fair. This person, either because he had a better lawyer, or he was wileyer, or he went to the police officers first, or he had more information to give, whatever it is, he got himself a sweet deal and then this guy is holding the bag. I think that that to us, we really felt like there was a fairness component to their thinking. One of the things I haven’t mentioned, but which really delights both Dr. Rose and myself about these data is, I mentioned that there are these mitigating factors that the juries are voting on, but in many of these verdict forms, the jurors are actually writing in, they are saying in their own words, what matters to them. And that is one of the places where we could really see plainly that their sense about it being unjust to punish the innocents, or that it’s not fair that someone could be a same or greater culpability and not be subjected to the death penalty or capital trial, or, as we talked about too, about the role of government negligence. But I think fairness with a coparticipant is really a powerful, underlying belief.

Robert Dunham 26:43

And I noticed that in your article, you actually quote a number of the jurors, what they wrote in there. And I’ll just read one of them, there was an equally culpable defendant, Damien Bradford, who will not be punished by death.

Meredith Rountree 26:55


Robert Dunham 26:56

The jurors are just coming right out and saying it.

Meredith Rountree 26:59

And it makes sense. And the whole idea of having jurors be decision makers is that they are to express the morality of the community. That that is their job. When they are thinking about fairness, that is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

Robert Dunham 27:15

How does that translate when we’re talking about government negligence? Because I think that’s a different kind of fairness, but it’s different from the circumstances of the offense.

Meredith Rountree 27:28

It is. And I’ll tell you, it is something that I continue to think a lot about. So there are types of government failure that appear in the verdict forms, that’s completely conventional Lockett, Eddings characteristics, you know, the defendant type mitigation. So, you know, some of the jurors, you know, they gave support to or wrote in mitigators, about how the government, you know, failed to recognize that this defendant has, you know, special education needs, or that they had failed to, you know, have Child Protective Services intervene in an abusive family. And so that’s not controversial to get in. What is over-controversial, and I think really interesting, is that in many of these federal prosecutions, the government is seeking the death penalty against people who’ve committed murder in a Bureau of Prisons facility and defense counsel brought in evidence in some of these cases, about things that the Bureau of Prisons did that helped make this crime happen. And so this was in verdict forms, but also written in by the jurors, where they would say, for instance, BOP didn’t do their job by faulty logic of putting these two men in the same cell, that they thought it was mitigating that the Bureau of Prisons had contributed to this homicide. So we didn’t find, that’s a relatively small set of cases, so we don’t find outcomes there. But what we did find was that jurors were voting for this with the same support they gave to the conventional mitigating factors. And, you know, the idea that I’m working through with this is I think that there’s a sense that when the government created the circumstances, that led to the death of a victim here, that they lose a kind of moral standing to seek the ultimate punishment against the person who actually did commit the crime. That, you know, you’re partly responsible for this and the jurors were responding to that evidence in that way. In many these cases, there’s always some support, in some cases, strong support, for the idea that the government helped make this crime happen.

Robert Dunham 29:52

There’s a really high profile case that is going on right now in Florida and that is the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. And in that case, Nikolas Cruz has already pled guilty to to the murders, so they’re going to the penalty phase. His lawyers wanted to raise as mitigating evidence, a kind of government failure and what they were arguing was that because of the failures by law enforcement and the school guard to intervene in the homicides at an early stage, that that should be considered mitigating. And the court struck that down said, no, you can’t do that. How is that kind of government failure, different from the types of government failures that you’ve seen where the juries have credited as mitigating?

Meredith Rountree 30:48

I don’t see substantial difference, or maybe a better way, the way I think about it is, it seems to me, the jury is entitled to consider that in terms of the harm that was done. I understand that there was a prime actor here who did things that were terrible, and terribly hurtful. But all of this when we think about capital sentencing, I think it’s important from a legal perspective and a moral perspective, to recognize the context in which people act and the truth of that case, and I have no particular expertise in this case. But the truth of this case, as I understand it, is that it involves those considerations and I think a jury should be able to consider those in its sentencing decision, and certainly our data suggests that they find it quite relevant. They could still reject it in their sentencing decision, but they think it’s useful to think about.

Robert Dunham 31:52

From a legal doctrinal point of view, we see these two almost competing trends. One is the court saying you have to have an individualized consideration about the moral culpability of the defendant. And so that is all the traditional, the Lockett Eddings things you were discussing, the background of the defendant, his character, his or her record, stressful factors relating to the circumstances of the offense, and all of those are relevant to his or her moral culpability. Then there are these other things that don’t seem to have a direct relationship to the moral culpability, but sure have a lot to do with the degree of harm. I’m wondering, with the things that you saw how that changes things, how you think that should change policy, and maybe the legal doctrine with respect to what’s considered mitigating evidence?

Meredith Rountree 32:57

So I wholly agree with your sort of characterization of this individual moral culpability, and creating this separate category of things that aren’t about, you know, direct indicators of culpability. And I think that’s very much how courts see this, despite what we argue, indicators from the Supreme Court, that it’s more than about this individual moral culpability at the time of the crime. But what I think the better reading of the cases, but also of these data, is that if we want jurors to be performing their function as voices of the community, to really enable them to do their work, we have to have the idea of justice that they bring in here. And there multiple ways of thinking about justice, and that I think is part of the contribution of our work is to show these are some things that they thought were important that courts have not thought were important to justice. So for me, the idea of thinking about degrees of harm is less resonant than this idea of how do jurors in this particular case, think that justice can be done. And that’s why it implicates who will suffer as a result of this execution, who is not being punished in the same way? And what is the government’s role in the harm that was done, and that those are all part of this more complex vision of justice than I think the doctrine has enabled. And so as a policy matter, I would say, open up the doctrine to enable jurors to really have the full information that they need from a moral perspective in sentencing someone to life or to death.

Robert Dunham 34:51

So it’s much more about community notions of fairness than it is about some legal doctrine.

Meredith Rountree 34:59

Absolutely and I do want to say, because I have to say it some time, is that our vision, our understanding of what jurors ideas of justice, are some of the most conservative ideas of justice. First of all, I think they’re well founded on ideas of moral decision making, but also, the fact is, is that every one of the jurors who filled out these forms, got through a process of death qualification, the process through which they are chosen, selected to be on a capital jury. And that, to be seated on a capitol jury, you have to be willing to impose the death penalty, so that alone makes them just a slice of our community sense of justice. But we also know that death qualified jurors tend to be more hostile to, more punitive, more hostile to claims of mental impairment, and actually find mitigating evidence to be, in fact, aggravating. So there’s a substantial literature on this, but I do want to underscore that our data, these are not bleeding heart, liberal jurors. These are people who’ve gone through death qualification, a group that we know skews more conservative on all mitigation.

Robert Dunham 36:17

Our discussion here is really, it seems to be taking philosophical concepts and bringing them down to earth and that goes to the heart of the whole idea of having a jury determine sentencing. And I’m wondering what you think about that. The Supreme Court in 2002, ruled that capital defendants have a constitutional right to have a jury, rather than a judge determine all the facts that are necessary for a death sentence to be imposed. And almost all the states that have the death penalty require that the jury unanimously agree that the death penalty is appropriate but the Supreme Court has never said that the jury has to be the ultimate sentencer. So what do you take from these responses by jurors about their understanding of basic principles of fairness and decency? Does that make them better equipped than judges closer to the ground and judges in making these decisions?

Meredith Rountree 37:18

Through this project, I have thought so much about jury sentencing, and I have appreciated its sort of legal place in capital sentencing. But you know, as someone who has worked in post-conviction cases, I have had a skepticism about jurors and about, are they up to the task? I don’t know. I also teach at a law school where I think many students are very, very skeptical of jurors. And this project has really convinced me of you know, and this is consistent with the jury literature and I thank Mary Rose for helping me think through the role of juries. I think they worked very hard in these cases, I think they were immensely conscientious. They were faced with 175 mitigating factors, and they didn’t blow it off. They went through, they voted, they thought about it, and I have tremendous respect for their commitment and trying to do the right thing. And I also, I do believe that it is better to have jury sentencing than judge sentencing. I think that capital cases, in particular, they’re about something, they’re about something very different than sentencing someone to a term of years, where it does demand, I think, a greater responsiveness to the community. And the judges are not necessarily the best situated to speak for the community.

Robert Dunham 38:50

I know we’ve covered a lot, but let me ask you, one, one last thing. As you’ve gone through these verdict forms, and you’ve seen what juries respond to, are there policy changes or changes in the law that you would recommend based on what you’ve seen?

Meredith Rountree 39:08

I think that it would be very salutary to adopt something in terms of verdict form changes. I really think that that is beneficial for jury deliberation. I think some jurisdictions have been considering this and I would certainly encourage them to expand jurors and structure jurors’ decision making. And I also would say, just from a legal perspective, I think the three contested areas of evidence that we talked about, execution impact evidence, coparticipants sentences, and government negligence and contribution, I think that those should be admitted.

Robert Dunham 39:45

Is there anything that we missed in this discussion?

Meredith Rountree 39:48

Nothing that occurs to me right now, but I’m sure that as soon as I hang up, I will think of a lot of things. But right now, it’s been a real pleasure to speak with you about this. And yeah, if people have any questions, either about the Buffalo Law Review piece or about the the research generally, I hope they won’t hesitate to contact me.

Robert Dunham 40:06

Meredith Rountree, thank you so much for joining us on Discussions with DPIC.

Meredith Rountree 40:10

My pleasure, Rob.

Robert Dunham 40:12

And now for our listeners. To learn more about the death penalty, visit the Death Penalty Information Center website at To read more about Professor Rountree’s study, go to our DPIC podcast pages. We’ve included a link to the study in our description of this episode. And to make sure you never miss an episode of Discussions with DPIC, please subscribe on your podcast app of choice.