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Capital punishment, Death penalty, Capital jurors, Capital Jury Project, CJP, Future dangerousness, Lockett v. Ohio, Simmons v. South Carolina, Caldwell v. Mississippi


Applied Statistics | Courts | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure


Next to Texas, no state has executed more capital defendants than Virginia. Moreover, the likelihood of a death sentence actually being carried out is greater in Virginia than it is elsewhere, while the length of time between the imposition of a death sentence and its actual execution is shorter. Virginia has thus earned a reputation among members of the defense bar as being among the worst of the death penalty states. Yet insofar as these facts about Virginia's death penalty relate primarily to the behavior of state and federal appellate courts, they suggest that what makes Virginia's death penalty unique is the way in which state and federal appeals courts superintend the capital appeals process in Virginia. Other participants in the system, such as jurors, are thus not necessarily implicated in Virginia's uniqueness.

We wanted to get a better sense of whether or not Virginia's death penalty might also be unique, due not only to the behavior of its state and federal appeals courts, but also to the behavior of its jurors. Accordingly, we used the Capital Jury Project (CJP) questionnaire to conduct lengthy and intensive interviews with sixteen jurors who sat on capital cases in Virginia. Comparing our results with results from CJP interviews with jurors in other states, we suggest that Virginia jurors are not unique. Virginia jurors appear to think and behave more or less like jurors in other states, and consequently, they display the same range of problems as do jurors in other states. Virginia jurors are thus as good or bad as other jurors, but our results do not suggest that they are significantly any different.

Publication Citation

Published in: William and Mary Law Review, vol. 44, no. 5 (April 2003).