When Domestic goes Capital: Juror Decision Making in Capital Murder trials involving Domestic Homicide

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death penalty, jury decision making, offender–victim relationship, domestic discount

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Prior research suggests that homicide cases involving familial offenders and victims are subject to a “domestic discount” that reduces sentencing severity. However, the operation of a domestic discount in regard to death penalty sentencing has been rarely examined. The current research uses a near-population of jury decisions in capital murder trials conducted in North Carolina from 1991 to 2009 (n = 800), and a series of logistic regression analyses to determine whether there is (a) a direct effect between offender–victim relationship (e.g., domestic, friend/acquaintance, and stranger) and jury decision making, and/or (b) whether domestic offender-victim relationship (as well as other offender–victim relationships) moderates the effect of legal and extralegal case characteristics on jury assessment of the death penalty. Our findings revealed no empirical support for a “domestic discount” whereby juries are less likely to impose death sentences in cases involving domestic homicides. However, substantial differences in predictors of death sentencing were found across offender–victim dyads; most notably, domestic homicide cases demonstrated the most legalistic model of jury decisions to impose death sentences.

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Law and Human Behavior, v. 39, issue 4, p. 402-415