In the penalty-phase of a capital case, defense attorneys face a difficult task in managing the identity of their now convicted client. They must present a coherent narrative that combats the prosecution’s case and engenders leniency from the jury. The closing argument given by the defense attorney(s) provides a unique opportunity to analyze and understand the general use of stigma management techniques and their applicability to capital cases. Using content analysis, 18 Transcripts from Texas capital cases from 2005 to 2015 were analyzed against the relevant techniques of neutralization (Sykes & Matza, 1957): appeal to a higher loyalty, appeal to good character, denial of responsibility, and an emergent theme of personal and moral judgment. The results highlight a reliance on all four techniques, with nuanced variations in the way each was used. Furthermore, this research provides a descriptive analysis of the practical significance of techniques used to construct their closing arguments in capital cases.


Tyler Vaughan

Committee Member

Emily Boyd

Committee Member

Lisa Bell Holleran

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)


Social and Behavioral Sciences


Rights Statement

In Copyright