When Jurors Choose to See, They Choose Life

By Goins, Deborah A. | Judicature, March/April 2006 | Go to article overview
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When Jurors Choose to See, They Choose Life


Goins, Deborah A., Judicature


Since 1989, I have tried 15 capital murder cases to completion in Florida. Of those, 12 resulted in life sentences, and one in conviction of a lesser offense that was not deatheligible. Unfortunately, two cases resulted in the imposition of the death penalty. The significant number of life sentences that were imposed in these cases involved many non-death sentence recommendations by jurors. What can explain this remarkable level of jurors' commitment to life?

Jurors are ordinary and diverse people who are ultimately forced to make profound philosophical judgments about whether a fellow human being will live or die. Those chosen to serve, however, are not completely ordinary and diverse-they can only serve on a capital murder jury if they are willing to consider death as a possible sentence.

Such jurors are affected by current societal values and trends so that many of them harbor "pro death penalty" attitudes. Even so, manypeople who profess to be pro-death penalty at the time of jury selection questioning seem to undergo a metamorphosis when faced with the very real task of deciding the fate of an identifiable person who is present in the courtroom. Reaching the hearts and minds of these jurors is the very essence of capital defense litigation. Often I have looked into the eyes of jurors who were obviously unalterably hostile to the idea of giving life.

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