July 27, 2010

Victim race still central to death penalty

The more things (appear to) change, the more they stay the same

The odds of getting a death sentence for killing a white person is about three times higher than for killing an African American with the race of the defendant virtually irrelevant, according to a new study out of North Carolina that echoes earlier findings on capital punishment.

Researchers Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Glenn Pierce of Northeastern University in Boston combed through three decades of death sentences for the study, to be published next year in the North Carolina Law Review.

The study will be used in capital appeals, according to an article in the Daily Camera of Boulder, Colorado. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that statistical evidence of racial bias could not be considered in individual cases, but states could pass their own legislation to do so. North Carolina has 159 people now awaiting execution. As Brittany Anas reports:
Leading up to the study, legislators in North Carolina had raised concern about the racial disparities of those on death row -- but there was no hard evidence…. The state became the second in the nation, following Kentucky, to allow murder suspects and those already on death row to present statistical evidence of racial bias. The law is intended to make sure that the race of the defendant or victim doesn't play a key role in sentencing. The study by Radelet and Pierce is the first to be released since North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act.
Of related interest:

Race and the death penalty, Death Penalty Information Center data clearinghouse

Death penalty news in California:

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