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Public Support for the Death Penalty: Beyond Gallup (From Criminal Justice System: Politics and Policies, Seventh Edition, P 383-399, 1998, George F. Cole and Marc G. Gertz, eds. -- See NCJ-185991)

NCJ Number
Alexis M. Durham; H. Preston Elrod; Patrick T. Kinkade
Date Published
17 pages
Public support for the death penalty has increased dramatically over the past 30 years in the United States, and a recent study conducted by the authors in Florida indicated about 61 percent of citizens support the death penalty for offenders convicted of homicide.
A questionnaire was constructed that contained 17 crime scenarios to examine citizen willingness to use the death penalty as a punishment for homicide in Hillsborough County, Florida. Citizens were presented with these vignettes and were asked to indicate what they thought was the appropriate punishment. Data revealed several important aspects of citizen support for the death penalty. Although only 13.1 percent chose capital punishment as the appropriate sanction for all offenders, about 95 percent considered the death penalty appropriate for at least one murderer. Persons over 49 years of age and those with more than a high school education were most reluctant to choose capital punishment as the appropriate sanction. Religious persuasion, income, and personal experience with crime victimization were not related to the choice of the death penalty. Although willingness to impose the death penalty was generally greatest for first degree and felony murders, several felony murders elicited relatively few death penalty judgments. Only 18 percent of respondents thought the death penalty was not appropriate for any offender or thought it was appropriate for all offenders. The belief that death was the appropriate penalty was influenced strongly by factors having little relation to the murder itself. When vignettes containing statutory aggravating and mitigating factors under Florida law were considered, respondents handed down harsher penalties when aggravating factors were involved. Although Florida law does not provide capital punishment for voluntary manslaughter, 43 percent of respondents said capital punishment was appropriate for such murders. Overall, of 6,049 punishments assigned by respondents, 3,675 or 60.8 percent were death sentences. 37 references


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