War and Peace in the Jury Room: How Capital Juries Reach Unanimity
Scott E. Sundby
Volume 62, Issue 1, 103-154,
Using data from the Capital Jury Project, this Article takes a close look inside the jury room at the process by which capital juries reach a unanimous verdict at the penalty phase. The Article first examines the relationship between first ballot voting patterns and the ultimate sentence, then explores the dynamics of group interaction in achieving unanimity. In particular, by using the jurors’ own narratives, the piece delves into the psychological process and arguments through which the majority jurors persuade the holdouts to change their votes. This process is especially intriguing because individual juries do not, of course, have any training in how to deliberate and reach unanimity, and yet they are strikingly similar from case to case in how they convert holdouts to the majority position (with striking differences between the dynamics of juries that reach a verdict of death and those that return a sentence of life without parole). Using the
closing argument in the death penalty case of Susan Smith (a mother who did the unthinkable, killing her two children by driving them into a lake and then trying to cast blame on a mysterious black man), the Article concludes by examining how a closing argument might address many of the pressures that affect holdouts.