STUDIES: Misunderstandings by Jurors Undermines Constitutionality of Death Penalty

A new study by William Bowers and others published in the Criminal Law Bulletin revealed that most jurors in death penalty cases lack sufficient understanding of their duties, rendering the process unconstitutional by Supreme Court standards. The study showed that capital jurors often mistakenly believe that a death sentence is required by law, and fail to take primary responsibility for the defendant's punishment. The study suggested that jurors tend to believe death should be the punishment for heinous crimes and that death is needed as a deterrent and required by law. When the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Geogia, it stated that improved jury instructions and court procedures would reduce the arbitrariness in capital sentencing. The report's findings suggest that after many years of experimentation these remedies have failed: "It appears that jurors cannot be successfully directed in making such an ominous decision by guidelines and procedures devised to insure a reasoned moral judgment free of arbitrariness. Being outraged by heinous killings and ambivalent about ordering someone killed, are 'normal' human reactions."

(W. Bowers, W. Foglia, S. Dietzel and C. Kelly, "Jurors' Failure to Understand or Comport with Constitutional Standards in Capital Sentencing: Strength of the Evidence," 46 Criminal Law Bulletin ___(2010)).  See Sentencing and Studies.  See also prior article by W. Bowers & W. Foglia, "Still Singularly Agonizing: Law's Failure to Purge Arbitrariness from Capital Sentencing," Criminal Law Bulletin.