Effects of Secondary Convictions on Pennsylvania Death Penalty Sentencing Outcomes

Open Access
Ivins, Ryan James
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Jeffery Todd Ulmer, Thesis Supervisor
  • Stacy Silver, Honors Advisor
  • criminal justice
  • sentencing
  • death penalty
  • capital punishment
This thesis attempts to explore the relationship between accompanying felony convictions and subsequent sentencing outcomes for first degree murder convictions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from the years 2000 through 2010. Focal concerns theory, previously applied to legal decision-making in a wide variety of contexts, is employed in this study to examine how common cognitive processes in conjunction with preexisting notions held by juries and prosecutors alike may affect the sentencing decisions of both parties. Upon analysis of the data using binary logistic regression modeling, this study finds mixed support for the author’s hypotheses, which predict that homicides traditionally viewed as particularly heinous, namely those involving multiple murders or sex-related offenses, will be most strongly associated with death penalty outcomes when controlling for other relevant factors. Implications of these findings and directions for further research are discussed in the context of current theory and literature.