Why jurors vote life or death: Operative factors in ten Florida death penalty cases.

Geimer, W. S., & Amsterdam, J. (1988). Why jurors vote life or death: Operative factors in ten Florida death penalty cases. American Journal of Criminal Law, 15, 1-54.

These cases included five in which the jury recommended life imprisonment and five in which it recommended the death penalty. In five of these cases, the jury recommendation was overridden by the judge. Results indicate that capital sentencers do not employ the State’s ‘roadmap’ to guide discretion. The factors considered by jurors in these cases only occasionally resembled the statutory list of aggravating and mitigating factors, and the factors that actually influenced juror decisions were rarely dealt with during appellate review. For jurors recommending life, lingering doubts and scruples were the primary operative factors in decisions; for jurors recommending death, the assumption of a mandatory or presumptive death sentence and the manner of the killing were the most frequently given explanations. Results suggest that jury discretion cannot be guided and that guidelines listing sentencing factors appear to serve the primary function of giving appellate courts something tangible to review rather than having any appreciable effect on trial-level decision making. Jurors tended to report aggravating/mitigating factors not strong determinants of verdict. Heinousness of killing was most often-cited reason by jurors from the 5 juries imposing death; lingering doubts and opposition to death penalty most often cited by jurors from juries imposing life. 64% of jurors from death juries felt death penalty was the default or mandatory.