Juries could increasingly favor the death penalty, despite declining public support, Social Ecology professor finds.
When the case of Scott Dekraai – who pled guilty to murdering eight people in a Seal Beach salon in 2011 – goes to the sentencing phase of the trial, more than one-third of potential jurors could be rejected based on their beliefs about the death penalty.
The consequence? A jury that could be tilted in favor of capital punishment, even as national polls show that fewer and fewer people support it, according to a recent paper published in the Yale Law Journal by Nicholas Scurich, an associate professor in the School of Social Ecology.
During the summer of 2016, Scurich and his team asked nearly 500 potential jurors at the Orange County Superior Court House in Santa Ana about their beliefs in the death penalty, finding that 35 percent of them would likely be rejected from death penalty cases like Dekraai’s based on their beliefs.
“This is what the attorneys in that case will have to deal with. These are the exact potential jurors at the exact courthouse,” Scurich says. Since Dekraai already pled guilty, the jury will only determine between life in prison or death.
Death penalty cases are unique because the jury decides on both guilt and punishment; in all other cases, the jury determines guilt while judges dole out punishments. “It’s just a very different dynamic,” Scurich says. “What hangs in the balance is a person’s life.”