Sinners and Saints: The Role of Social Standing Evidence in Capital Sentencing

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The authors’ purpose was to examine how the social standing of victims and defendants impacted capital sentencing decision making. Participants were 305 death-qualified community members recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workforce who acted as mock jurors in the sentencing phase of a capital trial. This experiment was a 3 Victim Impact Statement Social Standing (none, low, high) × 3 Execution Impact Evidence Social Standing (none, low, high) fully crossed, between-groups factorial design. Social standing of the victim did not directly or indirectly impact sentencing decisions, but the introduction of any form of execution impact evidence resulted in more positive evaluations of the defendant and fewer death sentences. These effects were moderated by pro-death penalty attitudes. Our findings have implications for how prosecutors and defense attorneys use character evidence to humanize victims and defendants.



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