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February 5, 2007

Should we care about geographical sentencing disparity?

Sentencing disparities due to race and class surely should rankle a society committed to concepts of equality.  But what should a society committed to concepts of federalism think about sentencing disparities due to geography?   This great new article in the New York Times by Adam Liptak, entitled "Geography and the Machinery of Death," raises a fascinating twist on this intriguing issue.  Here is how the piece begins:

The death penalty, Justice Potter Stewart wrote in 1972, can be cruel and unusual in the way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. But the apt metaphor for the death row inmate named Patrick D. Murphy is not meteorological.  It is geographical. And geological.

First of all, Mr. Murphy committed a murder in Oklahoma, which is one of a handful of states enthusiastically committed to the death penalty.  Oklahoma and five other states accounted for 45 of the 53 executions in the United States last year.  Even within Oklahoma, though, the question of whether Mr. Murphy lives or dies may turn on precisely where the killing took place and on who owned the land underneath.

February 5, 2007 at 08:11 AM | Permalink


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What sentencing disparities on account of race--do you mean the fact that non-Hispanic white murderers are more likely to get death than than minority murderers?

Posted by: federalist | Feb 5, 2007 7:35:30 PM

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