Capital Jury Project

This is a continuing program of research on the decision-making of capital jurors that was initiated in 1991 by a consortium of university-based researchers with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Project has been administered nationally by Dr. William Bowers, who was then Principal Research Scientist, Northeastern University . The findings of the CJP are based on three- to four-hour, in-depth, interviews with persons who have served as jurors in capital trials. Phase I of the Project has completed over 1,200 interviews from jurors in 353 capital trials in 14 states. These interviews chronicled the jurors' experiences and decision-making over the course of the trial, identify when various influences come into play, and reveal the ways in which jurors reach their final sentencing decision. The more than forty articles and seven doctoral dissertations, based on CJP data are listed on the CJP website ( The extensive research data including tape-recorded and transcribed interviews with capital jurors have recently been donated to the CPRI by Dr. Bowers, and now reside in the National Death Penalty Archive.

CPRI has been directly involved in two follow up stages of the Capital Jury Project; first as one of several data collection sites and now as the central locus of research with an application for funding pending with NSF. The first follow-up stage (CJP2) focuses on the role of jurors' race in capital sentencing. It seeks: (1) to identify race-linked perspectives of crime causation and responsibility that may be associated with different assessments of criminal violence; (2) to examine jurors' processes of identification with perpetrators and victims of criminal violence and to assess their relationship to perspectives of crime causation and responsibility, (3) to understand the role of perceptions of crime causation and responsibility, of personal identification, and of empathy with offenders and victims on the evaluation of aggravation and mitigation evidence, (4) to trace the interpersonal dynamics of decision-making, and account for them in terms of jury composition, processes of identification and empathy, and attributions of cause and responsibility, and (5) to uncover the interplay of gender with race in punishment decision-making and to test the independence of race and social economic status effects.

The new (CJP3) research will be conducted at CPRI starting June 1, 2005 . This is a study of jurors' receptivity to mitigation evidence in capital sentencing. It draws upon transcripts of capital trials to determine the extent to which jurors give effect to mitigation evidence and related arguments presented in capital sentencing hearings. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that jurors must consider and give effect to evidence of mitigation in making their life or death punishment decisions, yet the earlier CJP research suggests that many jurors do not remain receptive to evidence and arguments of mitigation in making their life or death punishment decisions. This research is designed: (1) to determine the nature and extent of mitigation evidence and arguments presented to jurors in capital cases (from trial transcripts), (2) to assess the extent to which jurors give effect to such information by recognizing its mitigating nature and considering or relying on it in their decision-making (through interviews with capital jurors), and (3) to gain a more refined understanding of how jurors make the capital sentencing decision both individually and as a group, in light of the aggravating and mitigating evidence presented to them and the impediments they experience in their consideration of mitigation evidence.

The use of trial transcripts to establish the nature and extent of the mitigation evidence and arguments to which jurors are exposed will help researchers prepare for and conduct mitigation-grounded interviews with a target sample of six jurors from each of 48 capital trials. These interviews will be designed to assess the role of mitigation evidence in jurors' decision-making through a questioning and probing strategy informed by the nature of the evidence and arguments presented to the jurors as revealed by the trial transcripts in their cases, as well as by questions about individual and interpersonal influences in their decision-making.

Clemency Petitions as a Key to Wrongful Executions: Unlike judicial proceedings, claims raised in clemency petitions are free of procedural defaults that can mask error, unfairness, or irrationality in a given death sentence. Petitions thus can reveal what the sentencing authority may not have known because of attorney error, prosecutorial misconduct, newly discovered evidence, or other reasons. Clemency petitions potentially represent the vehicle through which facts are reassembled in the most coherent and complete form, with the benefit of all investigation that was ever conducted in a case. These petitions thus afford a unique vantage point on the fundamental fairness, accuracy, and reliability of death sentences in cases that usually end in the defendant's execution.

This project involves the acquisition and analysis of an estimated 600-700 clemency petitions and related materials filed in capital cases across America . The clemency requests provide a window on the processing of capital cases, and a source of uniquely detailed information on the nature of faults previously identified in the administration of the death penalty.