Confronting the Demons of Future Dangerousness
Michael R. Cavanaugh, Marilyn McShane, Frank P. Williams

Despite the advancement of empirical techniques for detecting discrimination in the application of the death penalty, American courts continue to uphold controversial decisions tainted by the unscientific nature of assessments of future dangerousness. From early studies that focused on characteristics of the victim and offender and their effect on which cases became death penalty trials, research has progressed to more sophisticated studies of not only how jurors are selected but how they process information in decision making. While jurors’ predispositions toward the death penalty have been addressed directly in case law, more subtle forms of bias are introduced when death-qualified jurors report being influenced more by future dangerousness than any other aspect of a case. This paper examines research related to risk assessments and perceptions of offender dangerousness as well as the influence of media and social networks on individuals in their judgments about future dangerousness. While future dangerousness determinations in death penalty cases are used in only a few states, the potential for bias, particularly racial bias, is undeniable.

Full Text: PDF     DOI: 10.15640/jlcj.v2n2a4