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September 22, 2005

New California study on race and death penalty

Thanks to posts at TalkLeft and How Appealing, I saw news of a new study from California documenting the impact of race of the victim in the imposition of the death penalty.  The study, entitled "The Impact of Legally Inappropriate Factors on Death Sentencing for California Homicides, 1990-99," can be accessed here and its major findings are summarized here.  A press release from the ACLU of Northern California (available here) sets out these key findings:

  • 80% of executions in California were for those convicted of killing whites, while only 27.6% of murder victims are white.

  • Those who murder whites are over four times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill Latinos and over three times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill African-Americans.

  • A person convicted of 1st degree murder in a predominantly white, rural county (like Napa, King, Colusa, or Shasta counties) is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death than a person convicted of a similar crime in a diverse, urban county like Los Angeles, which has the highest number of homicides in the state.

  • The death rate by homicide in California varies substantially by race.  African-Americans are six times more likely to be murdered than whites.

September 22, 2005 at 11:51 PM | Permalink

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Comments

As I point out in my comment on this study, the disparity, if it is in fact "caused" by racial considerations (that is, if it is not caused by other factors, such as white victims suffering "death-qualifying" deaths disproportionately to black victims), then the fault lies with the more liberal, minority, urban populations, who discourage pursuit of the death penalty by their prosecutors. Most black murders occur in these urban areas. If murderers of blacks are under-represented on death row, the more liberal (and minority) urban voter's aversion to imposition of the death penalty is to blame, not racism. San Francisco sought NO death sentences-- I'll wager the majority of their murder victims were black. Is it racism or is it the DA responding to voter opposition to the death penalty?

Posted by: Tom McKenna | Sep 23, 2005 12:09:41 AM

Tom:

Try to spin it anyway you want, the body of studies on the death penalty reach a near uniform conclusion, race, geography and politics are the only factors that separate captial from noncapital sentences. The California study is only the latest, not the last, to reach that conclusion. If a state can't offer uniformity (or near uniformity) in its sentencing can you really trust it with the ultimate power?

Put another way, the death penalty is just like so many other governmental program, an expensive failure.

I was waiting for the "embargo" on this story to be lifted. My understanding is that several more "embargoed" studies in the works reach the same conclusion as this one.

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