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Matters of Life or Death: The Sentencing Provisions in Capital Punishment Statutes

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Bulletin Volume: 31 Issue: 1 Dated: (January-February 1995) Pages: 19-60
J R Acker; C S Lanier
Date Published
42 pages
This article assays statutory provisions that structure the ultimate sentencing decision in capital cases by examining the allocation of responsibility between judges and juries when sentencing input or authority is vested in both and by questioning the wisdom of relying on mandatory sentencing schemes.
Mandatory sentencing provisions require that capital punishment be imposed if aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating factors or if one or more statutory aggravating circumstances exist but no mitigating factors have been established. Burden of proof issues involving sentencing factors are considered, along with different types of capital sentencing formulas: those that balance aggravating and mitigating factors; those that simply require aggravating and mitigating circumstances to be considered; and those based on special sentencing issues. Various terms of imprisonment with parole eligibility, as well as life imprisonment without parole, are considered as alternative sentences to the death penalty under different statutory schemes. Recommendations are offered on how legislation should be structured to help shape the ultimate sentencing decision in death penalty cases. 173 footnotes+