Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Cases: Does the Victim's Character Matter?1


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    This research was supported by a grant from the University of Colorado Committee on Research and Creative Works. We thank Judge Rebecca Bromley and attorneys James Moss and Ann Kaufman who assisted in filming the trial, Dan Kaufman who provided the transcript from the Booth case, and William Bowers and Lawrence White who offered insightful comments on these ideas. Portions of this paper were presented at the meetings of the American Psychological Society in New York, NY, July 1995

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Edith Greene, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO 80933. e-mail:


Victim impact evidence is introduced by the prosecution during the penalty phase of a capital case to describe the character of the victim and the emotional, financial, and physical impact of the victim's murder on survivors. In 1987, the Supreme Court voiced concern that this evidence would permit the capital sentencing decision to turn on jurors' perceptions of the victim's respectability. This study assesses that concern. Mock jurors watched a reenactment of the penalty phase in the case of Booth v. Maryland. We manipulated the respectability of the victim described in the victim impact evidence and found that jurors' judgments of the victims, victims' survivors, and severity of the crime were all affected by this description. We speculate on the way that these moderating variables could, in turn, influence the capital sentencing decision.