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May 9, 2012

"Continued Racial Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment? The Rosenthal Era"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN from Professor Scott Phillips. Here is the abstract:

Given the substantial amount of research that has been conducted throughout the United States regarding the relationship between race and capital punishment, one might assume that much of the attention has been focused on Harris County, Texas.  After all, Harris County -- home to Houston and surrounding areas -- is the capital of capital punishment. Indeed, if Harris County were a state it would rank second in executions after Texas.  Yet only one study has examined whether race influences the death penalty in Houston. Specifically, Phillips (2008) reports that death was more likely to be imposed against black defendants, and more likely to be imposed on behalf of white victims, during the period from 1992 to 1999 -- the final years of Johnny Homes tenure as District Attorney.  After Holmes retired, Charles Rosenthal served as District Attorney from January 1, 2001 to February 15, 2008.

Did racial disparities continue during the Rosenthal administration?  The current research suggests that the impact of defendant race disappeared, but the impact of victim race continued: death sentences were imposed on behalf of white victims at 2.5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race, and death sentences were imposed on behalf of white female victims at 5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race and gender.  Such disparities are particularly troubling because Rosenthal was forced out of office in a scandal that included racist emails.  Given the disparities, coupled with racist emails from the elected official who decides whether to seek the death penalty, the paper contemplates a key question: Should the state of Texas be allowed to execute inmates who were sentenced to death in Harris County during the Rosenthal administration?

May 9, 2012 at 08:56 AM | Permalink

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Comments

"...the paper contemplates a key question: Should the state of Texas be allowed to execute inmates who were sentenced to death in Harris County during the Rosenthal administration?"

If those sentenced to death earned it by their behavior, of course. The fact that black victims are undervalued by the system means that the system should stop undervaluing them, not that it should double-down on its vices by undervaluing white victims as well.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2012 12:42:37 PM

the name of the game is VIS:

Victim Impact Statement. White victims are more telegenic and blacks are looking deathworthy
http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~mcslab/PublicationPDFs/Looking%20deathworthy.pdf

Posted by: claudio giusti | May 9, 2012 1:57:49 PM

Did the study look at other characteristics of victims, besides race and gender? And shouldn't the study look at charging decisions, rather than jury sentences?

Posted by: federalist | May 9, 2012 3:22:39 PM

Power corrupts.

Incompetence pervades government.

Unsurprisingly, government officials vested with decision-making authority concerning matters related to the death penalty carry out that authority with corruption and incompetence.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 9, 2012 3:25:36 PM

"Unsurprisingly, government officials vested with decision-making authority concerning matters related to the death penalty carry out that authority with corruption and incompetence."

...unlike the killers under a death sentence, who carried out their work with straightforward determination and well-calculated cruelty.

Long live John Wayne Gacy!

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2012 3:50:48 PM

17 people who were on death row have been exonerated based on DNA evidence. Before their exonerations, they served a combined 200+ years in prison. http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/The_Innocent_and_the_Death_Penalty.php

Way to go government!!

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | May 9, 2012 5:06:16 PM

May 9, 2012 : 290 EXONERATED

Posted by: George | May 9, 2012 5:45:30 PM

CCDC and George --

Please describe for us your infallible system, in which there are no erroneous convictions or acquittals.

Thanks.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 9, 2012 5:48:53 PM

You know what's funny--I don't really mind it when criminal defense attorneys raise valid innocence claims. I welcome the scrutiny on the justice system, and I am glad that some terrible miscarriages of justice are righted. I don't see CCDC give a moment's care about all the people who have been murdered by those who have been previously convicted of murder. Or to situations where lenient sentences have led a trail of blood in their wake.

Posted by: federalist | May 9, 2012 7:39:17 PM

CCDC: Shouldn't DP convictions get reviewed by experienced investigators, rather than know nothing appellate court judges?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 10, 2012 4:41:51 AM

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