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Life and death in the lone star state: Three decades of violence predictions by capital juries


  • The authors derive income from evaluations and testimony at capital sentencing specifying varying levels of improbability of future prison violence and/or describing prison classification and security. The withdrawal of future violence as a capital sentencing consideration would have adverse economic impact on them. Partial funding for data collection and analysis was provided by a Texas district court at the request of defense counsel.


The accuracy of three decades of Texas jury predictions of future violence by capital defendants was tested through retrospective review of the disciplinary records of former death row (FDR) inmates in Texas (N = 111) who had been sentenced to death under this “special issue” and subsequently obtained relief from their death sentences between 1989 and 2008. FDR inmates typically had extended tenures on death row (M = 9.9 years) and post-relief in the general prison population (M = 8.4 years). FDR prevalence of serious assault was low, both on death row (3.6%) and upon entering the prison population (4.5%). None of the assaults resulted in life-threatening injuries to the victims. Violence among the FDR inmates was not disproportionate compared with life-sentenced capital offenders. Consistent with other research, juror expectations of serious prison violence by these offenders had high error (i.e., false positive) rates. The confidence of legislators and courts in the violence prediction capabilities of capital jurors is misplaced. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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