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Mock Jurors' Comprehension of Aggravating and Mitigating Factors: The Impact of Timing and Type of Sentencing Phase Instructions

Description: Research concludes that after receiving sentencing phase instructions in capital cases, mock jurors do not understand aggravating and mitigating factors, and the behaviors or circumstances that contribute to each (e.g., Smith & Haney, 2011). Through utilization of a real murder trial transcript, the present study examines the effects of the simplicity (standard or simplified) and timing of the sentencing phase instructions (before or after sentencing phase testimony) on mock jurors’ understanding of such factors. Thematic analysis of open-ended responses to survey questions also explores the nature of mock jurors’ (mis)understanding. Results indicate that there is a relationship between type of instructions given and participants’ understanding of both aggravating and mitigating factors. Simplified instructions resulted in better, but still poor, understanding. However, no statistically significant relationships are found between instruction timing and participants’ understanding of aggravating or mitigating factors. Open-ended responses reveal ways in which participants erroneously define aggravating and mitigating factors, which could aid policy makers in the rewriting of sentencing phase instructions.

Suggested Citation:
Maier, S. L., Mannes, S., Foster, E. E. (2021). Mock Jurors' Comprehension of Aggravating and Mitigating Factors: The Impact of Timing and Type of Sentencing Phase Instructions [Electronic Version]. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 16(1), 65-83.

Keywords: aggravating factors, mitigating factors, jury instructions, capital cases

Date: Mar 11, 2021 | File Size: 377.79 Kb | Downloads: 23

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