American RadioWorksDocumentariesAmericaDeadly Decisions
Juror Reponsibility  |   Juror Confusion  |   Juror Bias

The Capital Jury Project

In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled—in Furman v. Georgia—that capital punishment was unconstitutional due to the arbitrariness with which it was imposed. When capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, the Supreme Court eliminated death sentences fixed by law and mandated a two-part trial process in which the guilt or innocence of a defendant must be considered separately from the sentence of a guilty defendant. These measures were intended to reduce the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty.

The Supreme Court's 1987 McCleskey vs. Kemp decision ruled that, although statistics showed that blacks in Georgia were more likely to be sentenced to death than whites, evidence of specific discrimination was needed to challenge the constitutionality of McClesky's death sentence. The decision set off a debate as to whether the issue of arbitrary imposition of the death penalty had actually been resolved.

In response, eight researchers from eight different states came together to examine whether or not arbitrariness, in the form of racial bias, was still present in the capital justice system. They wanted to know how well jurors understood their legal responsibilities and how often they fell back on preexisting racial biases. The research collaboration is called the Capital Jury Project (CJP). It is operated by a team of law professors, psychologists, criminologists, and other social scientists who have interviewed over 1,200 former capital jurors in fourteen states. Since 1993, the CJP has published the findings from these interviews in a series of more than 20 papers.

The following survey questions are excerpted from a CJP study published in 1995. They show how jurors understood (and often misunderstood) their legal obligations. The correct responses, provided for by law, are highlighted in red.


Source: Bowers, William, J. "The Capital Jury Project: Rationale, Design, and Preview of Early Findings" Indiana Law Journal Fall, 1995.

©2018 American Public Media