The Merciful Capital Juror

Theodore Eisenberg, Cornell Law School
Stephen P. Garvey, Cornell Law School


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We examine the role of mercy in capital sentencing along three dimensions. We first explain why mercy is a philosophically problematic virtue, and second, why it presently holds an ambiguous status within constitutional doctrine. Finally, we draw on interviews with jurors who served on capital cases in order better to understand how the behavior of merciful jurors compares to the behavior of their less merciful counterparts. Among other things, we find that merciful jurors tend to be better educated and to attend religious services regularly. We also find that merciful jurors are, as one might reasonably expect, more apt to vote in favor of a sentence of life imprisonment instead of death.