Considering Constitutionally Relevant Evidence: An Assessment of Childhood Physical Abuse as a Non-Statutory Mitigating Circumstance

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Psychology Theses

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Konstantopoulou, Fotine
mitigating circumstances; capital trial; sentencing instructions; Psychology
thesis / dissertation description
The present study examines the role of a specific instruction designed to guide jurors on non-statutory mitigating circumstances in determining sentence recommendation. To date, there is no research examining whether specific instructions provide more guidance, and improve jurors’ discretion compared to the current general instructions. We predicted that specific mitigating instructions would increase confidence in life sentencing compared to generic instructions as well as revised instructions. We also predicted that expert testimony of childhood physical abuse would minimize death penalty recommendations. Contrary to our predictions, we found that exposure to generic instructions increased confidence in a life sentence. In addition, perceptions of the defendant and mood predicted confidence in sentence. Positive mood predicted high levels of confidence in a death sentence.