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Capital punishment, Death penalty, Capital jurors, Capital Jury Project, CJP, Life imprisonment without parole, LWOP


Applied Statistics | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure


We examine support for the death penalty among a unique group of respondents: one hundred and eighty-seven citizens who actually served as jurors on capital trials in South Carolina. Capital jurors support the death penalty as much as, if not more than, members of the general public. Yet capital jurors, like poll respondents, harbor doubts about the penalty's fairness. Moreover, jurors--black jurors and Southern Baptists in particular--are ready to abandon their support for the death penalty when the alternative to death is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, especially when combined with a requirement of restitution. Support for the death penalty therefore exists side-by-side with doubts about its fairness and a distinct preference for some alternative to it. What explains this deadly paradox?

We suggest that the paradox arises where democratic politics fails to make life imprisonment without parole one of the alternatives to death, or where public education fails to inform or persuade jurors that capital defendants sentenced to life imprisonment will really remain in prison for the rest of their lives.

Publication Citation

Published in: Southern California Law Review, vol. 74, no. 2 (January 2001).