Judicial Narratives of Ideal and Deviant Victims in Judges' Capital Sentencing Decisions

Zaykowski, Heather; Kleinstuber, Ross; McDonough, Caitlin
December 2014
American Journal of Criminal Justice;Dec2014, Vol. 39 Issue 4, p716
Academic Journal
Although the Victim's Rights Movement has led to advances for victims of crime, the use of victim impact evidence in criminal trials remains controversial due to the suspicion that such evidence enhances punitive attitudes and arbitrariness in capital sentencing outcomes. Despite a growing body of literature in this area, it remains unclear if some victims are viewed more favorably than others, particularly from the perspective of judges. The current study examines the construction of victims by judges in capital cases and how this portrayal impacts sentencing outcomes in Delaware, which vests the final capital sentencing authority in judges rather than juries. In examining this gap in the literature, we consider if judges make distinctions between ideal and deviant victims, if these distinctions are associated with victim and offender characteristics, and if the construction of victims impacts offender sentencing. Findings from this study lend support to the idea that judges describe some victims as more 'worthy' than others, that victims described in ideal ways are more likely to be white and female, and that 'ideal victims' are more likely to result in death sentences.


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