Arbitrariness and the death penalty: how the defendant's appearance during trial influences capital jurors' punishment decision

Behav Sci Law. 2006;24(2):215-34. doi: 10.1002/bsl.673.


This paper examines the impact of the defendant's appearance during the trial on capital jurors' punishment decision. The data used in this analysis were gathered by the Capital Jury Project (CJP), a national program of research on the decision-making of capital jurors. A series of multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted using four aggravating circumstances related to the killing and eight defendant appearance variables as predictors of jurors' punishment decision at three points during the capital trial: (1) after the punishment phase ended, but before formal deliberation began; (2) when the first vote was taken on punishment at jury deliberations; and (3) at the final vote on punishment. Results indicated that when the defendant appeared emotionally involved during the trial (i.e. sorry and sincere) jurors either favored a life sentence or were undecided about punishment; however, when the defendant appeared emotionally uninvolved during the trial (i.e. bored) jurors either sought a death sentence or remained undecided. Policy implications will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Capital Punishment*
  • Decision Making*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Desirability*
  • Social Perception*
  • United States