Actions, actors, and agency in the penalty phase of capital trials


capital trial
penalty phase
reference term
juicio capital
discurso inicial
discurso final
fase de pena
término referencial

How to Cite

Chaemsaithong, K., & Kim, Y. (2020). Actions, actors, and agency in the penalty phase of capital trials: A comparison of two genres . Ibérica, (39), 319–344.


This study critically scrutinizes the discursive practice of state killing in capital trials. The quantitative and qualitative analysis compares the experientially constitutive roles of lexico-grammatical choices in attributing agency to the actions of the defendant and victims in lawyers’ opening and closing speech in the penalty phase of a high-profile capital trial. Integrating Van Leeuwen’s social actor representation framework (2008) into Halliday’s transitivity analysis (1994), the study identifies the prosecution’s and defense’s polarized referential practice for the defendant and victims as well as descriptions of their actions. It is argued that, rather than existing as facts outside the trial discourse, aggravating and mitigating factors are morally and normatively constructed in real-time discursive interaction through these extreme, and at times disturbing, reference and transitivity choices, potentially leading to a death recommendation

Copyright (c) 2020 Krisda Chaemsaithong, Yeonjeong Kim

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


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