The Role of Remorse and Gender in Juror Decision Making for Capital Punishment

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While defendants are expected to show remorse for committing a crime (Sundby, 1998) and remorse is particularly important during the sentencing phase of a trial (Zhong et al., 2014), there is little systematic evidence to understand how jurors evaluate a defendant’s remorsefulness. Previous research on capital cases has focused almost exclusively on male defendants despite the fact that these crimes are committed by females as well. In the present study, level of remorse and defendant gender are examined in the sentencing phase of a capital murder trial. Participants read trial scenarios with defendant gender and remorse manipulated and then responded to a questionnaire designed to identify what role remorse played in their sentencing decision. Participants were more likely to assign a life sentence than the death penalty to defendants who demonstrated sincere remorse. The study also examined interactions between juror and defendant gender. There was a significant three-way effect of remorse level, sentencing, and participant gender, but these effects were only present for women participants. Additional effects of participant gender and remorse level were found for perceptions of the defendant. The present study supports the importance of defendant remorsefulness and a consideration of juror gender on the perceptions of defendants and sentencing decisions.

social psychology, psychology, criminal justice, decision making, gender, remorse