Rewriting History: The Use of Feminist Narratives to Deconstruct the Myth of the Capital Defendant


‘The accused is innocent until proven guilty’-jurors take this fundamental tenet of the United States criminal justice system seriously as they approach their role as deciders of a defendant’s fate. What happens after a verdict is rendered is markedly less clear. Once a guilty verdict has been handed down, the defendant in a criminal trial can too easily cease to be seen as a “person” and be reduced in the eyes of a jury to no more than the sum of his worst actions.  This transition can be especially damaging in the penalty phase of a capital trial, where a jury that has declared a defendant’s guilt minutes before is now asked to look beyond the defendant’s crime and determine if he is worthy of life.

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Capital punishment has been applied in North America virtually since the first European settlers arrived. It has been estimated that about 16,000 people have been legally executed in the United States and its colonial predecessors; an unknown additional number of