Article Title

Death Qualification of Juries As a Violation of the Social Contract

Publication Title

Washington University Jurisprudence Review


Trial by a jury of one’s peers is a hallmark of the United States judicial system. The protection a jury trial is supposed to ensure, however, is severely compromised by current case law. Death qualification excludes potential jurors whose views on the death penalty “would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror.” This Note argues that the current practice of “death qualifying” juries in capital murder cases violates the social contract. In the past few years, citizen support for the death penalty reached its lowest point since it was temporarily abolished by the Supreme Court in 1972. These citizens deserve to express their views on the death penalty through jury service. Criminal defendants deserve to be sentenced by a jury of their peers, reflecting the community consensus on the ultimate question of life or death. The practice of death qualification delegitimizes the State’s use of capital punishment, and harms both the excluded jurors and the criminal defendant.