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Unformatted text preview: Law and Human Beha v ior, Vol. 24, No. 3, 2000 Discrimination and Instructional Comprehension: Guided Discretion, Racial Bias, and the Death Penalty Mona Lynch 1 and Craig Haney 2,3 This study links two pre v iously unrelated lines of research: the lack of comprehension of capital penalty-phase jury instructions and discriminatory death sentencing. Jury- eligible subjects were randomly assigned to v iew one of four v ersions of a simulated capital penalty trial in which the race of defendant (Black or White) and the race of v ictim (Black or White) were v aried orthogonally. Dependent measures included a sentencing v erdict (life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty), ratings of penalty phase e v idence, and a test of instructional comprehension. Results indicated that instructional comprehension was poor o v erall and that, although Black defen- dants were treated only slightly more puniti v ely than White defendants in general, discriminatory effects were concentrated among participants whose comprehension was poorest. In addition, the use of penalty phase e v idence differed as a function of race of defendant and whether the participant sentenced the defendant to life or death. The study suggest that racially biased and capricious death sentencing may be in part caused or exacerbated by the inability to comprehend penalty phase instructions. INTRODUCTION In a series of decisions beginning more than a quarter century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has focused unprecedented attention on the capital jury decision- making process. In the first of these decisions, Furman v . Georgia (1972), a plurality of the Court concluded that the death penalty was being imposed through a process that was arbitrary in nature. In the opinion of several justices, it was also adminis- tered on a discriminatory basis. These problems were blamed primarily on the unguided discretion that capital juries exercised in reaching their penalty verdicts. Four years later, in Gregg v . Georgia (1976) and its companion cases, the Court 1 Administration of Justice Program, California State University, San Jose, California. 2 Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, California. 3 Correspondence should be addressed to Mona Lynch, Administration of Justice, California State University, One Washington Square, San Jose, California 95192 (e-mail: [email protected]), or Craig Haney, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064 (e-mail: [email protected]). 337 0147-7307/00/0600-0337$18.00/1 2000 American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychology Association 338 Lynch and Haney approved several new death penalty statutes aimed at limiting the bases upon which the capital jury’s choice between life and death could be made. The ‘‘modern era’’ of death sentencing in the United States had begun....
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This note was uploaded on 04/09/2008 for the course SOP 4842 taught by Professor Reardon during the Spring '08 term at FIU.
- Spring '08
- The Land