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Alcohol and Drug Mitigation in Capital Murder Trials: Implications for Sentencing Decisions

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 27 Issue: 4 Dated: August 2010 Pages: 517-537
Beth Bjerregaard; M. Dwayne Smith; Sondra J. Fogel; Wilson R. Palacios
Date Published
August 2010
21 pages
This study examined whether juries in capital punishment cases consider a defendant's substance abuse as a mitigating factor in sentencing hearings.
Analyses of the impact on sentencing when alcohol and drug-related mitigation is used in the sentencing phases of capital murder trials is virtually absent from the existing literature. The present study addresses this by exploring the effect of having mitigation with alcohol and drug themes accepted in a large sample (n = 804) of capital murder trials in North Carolina. Logistic regression analyses that include a number of relevant control variables reveal no substantive impacts of having alcohol mitigation accepted by capital murder juries, but drug mitigators that were either accepted or rejected by juries were associated with an increased risk of receiving a death sentence. Possible reasons for the results and their implications are discussed and suggestions are made for further study of the effects of alcohol/drug mitigation in capital trials. Tables and references (Published Abstract)