Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

M. Dwayne Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kathleen Heide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tom Mieczkowski, Ph.D.


Mitigating Circumstances, 1st Degree Murder, Capital Punishment, Arbitrariness, Sentencing Outcome


This study focuses on the influence of mitigating circumstances on the sentencing outcome before and after the McKoy (1990) decision. In McKoy (1990) the Supreme Court decided that the jurors did not have to find mitigating circumstances unanimously. Results are reported based on a sample of North Carolina first-degree murder cases where the state sought the death penalty. Logistic regression is used to determine the importance of mitigating circumstances as predictors of jury decision-making in North Carolina, controlling for the variety of other factors that influence that decision.

The descriptive statistics show that the average number of mitigating circumstances submitted and accepted had doubled in the post-McKoy cases. At the same time, the number of aggravating circumstances presented and submitted stayed about the same. The analysis then moved to the consideration of the impact of mitigating circumstances, and whether there had been a change between the two eras. Separate logistic regression analysis revealed that there had indeed been a shift in the effects of aggravation and mitigation, but no in the manner that might have been anticipated, Specifically, in the post-McKoy era, mitigating circumstances had a diminished impact on the probability of a death sentence while, conversely, aggravating circumstances carried an increased impact.