Instructing on death: Psychologists, juries, and judges

Shari Seidman Diamond*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Scopus citations


    The American legal system depends on judicial instructions to structure jury death penalty decisions and thus avoid unconstitutional arbitrariness. Some death penalty instructions, however, provide woefully inadequate guidance and ignore schemas that lead jurors to misconstrue instructions. Empirical research has just begun to document sources of misunderstanding and ways to improve communication. Psychological research can assist in reducing arbitrariness in death penalty decisions, but even optimal instructions may not produce constitutionally sufficient consistency. To be constitutional, capital punishment must be imposed according to a consistent set of standards. Simultaneously, juries must be free to consider in mitigation any relevant case or offender characteristic. It is far from clear that this constitutional conflict between standards and discretion can be resolved.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)423-434
    Number of pages12
    JournalAmerican Psychologist
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Jan 1 1993

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Psychology(all)


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