A Propensity Score Matching Analysis of the Relationship between Victim Sex and Capital Juror Decision-Making in North Carolina

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Victim sex, Death penalty, Capital punishment, Propensity score matching

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A small body of prior research has examined the impact of victim sex on jury death penalty decision-making and the majority of this research has demonstrated some evidence of a “female victim effect” such that cases involving a female victim are more likely to receive the death penalty than similarly situated cases with a male victim. However, within this line of research studies have suggested that victim sex may work in conjunction with other case characteristics. In order to further explore this phenomenon, the current study examines a near-population of death penalty cases from North Carolina (n = 1069) from 1977–2009 using propensity score matching. Results demonstrate that once cases are matched on more than 50 legal and extralegal case characteristics, there is no statistically significant or substantive link between victim sex and death penalty decision-making. Findings suggest that it is concrete differences in the legal and extralegal factors observed in cases with female victims compared to male victims that shape jury death sentence decisions rather than a direct effect of victim sex (before matching: OR = 1.53; 95% CI = 1.20–1.95; p < .001/after matching: OR = 0.90; 95% CI = 0.66–1.24; p = .52). Study limitations and implications are also discussed.

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Social Science Research, v. 52, p. 47-58