Race and the Inconsistent Use of the Death Penalty in Ohio

by TChris

Gratitude is owed to the AP for its careful analysis of death penalty cases in Ohio. Here's the result in summation:

Ohio's death penalty has been inconsistently applied since it was enacted in 1981, according to a first-ever analysis by The Associated Press. Race, the extensive use of plea bargains and even where a crime has been committed all play a role in who is sentenced to death.

Race of the victim seems to play a huge role in the administration of the death penalty in Ohio.

Offenders facing a death penalty charge for killing a white person were twice as likely to go to death row than if they had killed a black victim. Death sentences were handed down in 18 percent of cases where the victims were white, compared with 8.5 percent of cases where victims were black.

These findings raise questions that can't be ignored.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who co-sponsored the death penalty law in 1981 when he was a member of Ohio's Legislature, said the findings are disturbing. ... "That has to be very disconcerting and alarming to all of us," he said.

The findings in Ohio bear out a larger trend.

Other studies of various state laws enacted since 1972 have found the same type of discrepancies identified by The Associated Press review, including a higher percentage of death sentences for those who kill whites.

In January 2003, a study commissioned by Maryland found race played a major role in how the death penalty was applied. Ray Paternoster, a University of Maryland criminologist who conducted the study, said killers whose victims were white fared the worst.

Of course, racial disparity isn't the only problem bedeviling systems of capital punishment.

Separate investigations by the Chicago Tribune and Northwestern University journalism students in 1999 into the fairness of Illinois' system found some death penalty cases were flawed by faulty evidence and incompetent lawyers. The findings led former Gov. George Ryan to halt executions and set up a commission to study problems with the system.

So why hasn't Ohio done anything to correct the problem? Ask the politicians.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Ohio last year called for the state to undertake a comprehensive study of the state's capital punishment system. The House approved such legislation, but it quickly died in the Senate.

Update (5/9): (TL) Crim Law Prof has just added a very link-rich post on the this.

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    What has been reported in the press about the study does not necessarily support the reported conclusions. It could stand for nothing more than the fact that different communities apply the law more or less strictly. A problem, perhaps, but not the one the authors (or you) seem to want us to consider. If you are interested in further discussion that might go against your assumptions about the death penalty and race, I discuss this further at The Idealist. If anyone has a link to the actual study results, pot it so that we do not have to guess about what the data show.

    Re: Race and the Inconsistent Use of the Death Pen (none / 0) (#2)
    by DawesFred60 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:51 PM EST
    No one want this one, sad, sad, its wrong to kill, but why is it the race card comes up all the time?