Racial Disparities


"We simply cannot say we live in a country that offers equal justice to all Americans when racial disparities plague the system by which our society imposes the ultimate punishment."      - Senator Russ Feingold, 2003

Racial Disparities Occur in Death Sentencing Across the USA:

  • The race of the victim and the race of the defendant in capital cases are major factors in determining who is sentenced to die in this country.
  • In 1990 a report from the General Accounting Office concluded that "in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks."


RACE OF PRISONERS CURRENTLY ON DEATH ROW

BLACK: 1,371 (41.58%)

HISPANIC: 374 (11.34%)

WHITE: 1,475 (44.74%)

OTHER: 77 (2.33%)

Source: Death Row Population Figures from NAACP-LDF "Death Row USA (January 1, 2009)"



RACE OF DEFENDANTS EXECUTED IN THE U.S. SINCE 1976

BLACK: 393 (34.6%)

HISPANIC: 78 (6.87%)

WHITE: 643 (56.6%)

OTHER: 22 (0.62%)

Source: Death Penalty Information Center



RACE OF VICTIMS* SINCE 1976

BLACK: 239 (14.2%)

HISPANIC: 82 (4.87%)

WHITE: 1324 (78.67%)

OTHER: 38 (1.96%)

*NOTE: Number of Victims refers to the victims in the underlying murder in cases where an execution has occurred since the restoration of the death penalty in 1976. There are more victims than executions because some cases involve more than one victim.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center




Racial Disparities in California Death Sentencing

Summary

The recent study by Glenn Pierce and Michael Radelet titled, "The Impact of Legally Inappropriate Factors on Death Sentencing for California Homicides, 1990-1999" (Santa Clara Law Review, 2005), is the first state-wide study on the role of race, ethnicity and geography in death sentencing in California. The authors reviewed all homicides that occurred in California from 1990-99, using records from the FBI and Vital Statistics. During this period, 302 death sentences were returned (close to half the number of people currently on death row in California). The study finds that race and ethnicity of victim, place, and community diversity are key factors in determining who is sentenced to die in this state.

Read the Full Study:
http://www.scu.edu/law/lawreview/article.html


Summary of Findings

Geography and Community Diversity

  • Death sentence rates vary substantially from county to county in California and this variation cannot be explained simply based on homicide rates.
  • The highest rate of death sentencing occurs in counties with low population densities and a high proportion of non-Latino whites.
  • In low density communities where more than half the population is non-Latino white, 1.84 out of every 100 homicides results in a death sentence; in Los Angeles, .58 out of 100 homicides results in a death sentence.
  • Los AngelesCounty, which has the highest number of homicides in the state, has one of the lowest death sentence rates. The highest death sentence rates were found in Napa, King, Colusa, and ShastaCounties (ranging from 6 to 10%).
  • A person convicted of the same crime is more than three times more likely to be sentenced to die simply because the crime was committed in a predominantly white, rural community rather than a diverse, urban area.

Race and Ethnicity of Victim

  • Those who kill non-Latino whites are over three times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill African-Americans.
  • Those who kill non-Latino whites are over four times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill Latinos.
  • In cases where only one victim was killed and no felony was involved, those who kill non-Latino whites are over seven times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill African-Americans.
  • In cases where only one victim was killed and no felony was involved, those who kill non-Latino whites are over eleven times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill Latinos.

Needed Follow Up Action

  • The Legislature should require systemic data collection on homicides and death sentencing for more complete analysis.
  • Further research must be undertaken to determine where in the process the disparities enter; is the disparity caused by prosecutors’ charging practices, jurors’ decisions to return a death sentence, or somewhere in between?
  • Further research must be undertaken to determine whether a gender of victim disparity exists.

Other Interesting Facts

  • The California population is the most diverse in the nation. One third of the population is Latino (2000 Census).
  • The death rate by homicide in California varies substantially by race. African Americans are six times more likely to be murdered than whites in California.
  • While 27.6% of murder victims are white, 80% of execution in California have been for those convicted of killing whites.
  • 28 out of 58 California counties had no death sentences in 1990-99.
  • Very few homicides result in death sentences: across the state, .89% of homicides result in death sentences.



Other Articles And Reports about Racial Disparities in Death Sentencing



"Jurors Race a Focal Point for Defense" (Dallas News: Becka, Holly; LaFleur, Jennifer; McGonigle, Steve; Wyatt, Tim, 2006)

- This article examines Dallas' jury selection, demonstrating that blacks may be stricken at a disproportionately high rate. Even when researchers control for factors most likely to influence prosecutors' selections, racist patterns are evident.

- Click here for the full article.



"Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital Sentencing Outcomes" (Eberhardt, Jennifer L.; Davies, Paul G.; Purdie-Vaughns, Valerie; Johnson, Sheri Lynn, 2005)

- This unique psychological study demonstrates that race is a particularly important factor in interracial cases, where it is most salient to jurors. The study shows that, more than race alone, the stereotypicality of one's racial appearance is an important predictor in the application of the death penalty.

- Click here for the full study.



"Race and the Death Penalty" (American Civil Liberties Union, 2003)

- This report names those jurisdictions with the highest percentage of minorities on Death Row, cites relevant court cases, and ultimaely concludes that a "systemic racial bias in the application of the death penalty exists at both the state and federal level," and as such, "A moratorium on the death penalty is needed to address this miscarriage of justice."

- Click here for the full report.



"Race and the Death Penalty" (Death Penalty Information Center)

- This website includes statistics, tables, articles, links to studies, and current news relating to the role of race in capital punishment.

- Click here to visit the site.



"The Federal Death Penalty System: A Statistical Survey (1988-2000) (U.S. Department of Justice, 1988-2000)

- This Justice Department review of the death penalty shows that in the past five years., 80% of cases submitted by federal prosecutors for death penalty review have included racial minorities as defendants.

- Information is organized by state to show geographic as well as racial bias.

- Click here for the full report.



"The Legacy of Lynching and Southern Homicide" (Baller, Robert; Zevenbergen, Matthew P.; Messner, Steven F., 2005)

- This sociological study shows a correlation between southern areas with the highest rates of lynching (1882-1930) and those with the highest current rates of homicide. Researchers hypothesize that in such areas, capital punishment has replaced lyn hing as a legal form of racialized punishment.

- Click here to read about the study.



"U.S.: Death by Discrimination -- The Continuing Role of Race in Capital Cases" (Amnesty International, 2003)

- This study conclusively demonstrates that race and socio-economic levels play important roles in determining who will receive a death sentence.

- The study discusses state, national, and international statistics and policies, particularly emphasizing its findings on interracial murders.

- Click here for the full study.

 

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