The focal concerns of jurors evaluating mitigation: Evidence from federal capital jury forms

Mary R. Rose*, Meredith Martin Rountree

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Mitigating evidence in capital trials provides reasons for a life, rather than death, sentence. Research suggests that mitigation challenges jurors. We contribute to this area by analyzing federal verdict forms in capital cases, which allow jurors to write in their own mitigating factors, providing a direct, rare window onto their mitigation considerations. We use 205 forms from 171 juries to examine the frequency and content of these “write-ins,” using a sentencing theory typically applied to judges, Focal Concerns Theory. We find that four of every 10 juries prompted to offer their own mitigation do so, producing 149 unique write-ins, the majority of which introduces mitigation topics that differ from those listed on the verdict form. Surprisingly, jurors are less likely to offer write-in mitigators in cases involving White defendants than others, even after controlling for support for other mitigating factors and for aggravating factors, which also predict write-ins. Jurors' write-ins reflect a traditional sentencing concern for blameworthiness, and consistent with Focal Concerns Theory, attention to the practical consequences of punishment. Jurors also offered concerns we term “procedural fairness.” Results indicate that juries' views are patterned in ways that are similar, but not identical, to judges' sentencing concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-236
Number of pages24
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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