Study Examines Death Penalty and Race
Adam Liptak in the New York Times examines the results of a new study on the death penalty and crime. There are two key findings.
The first one is not a surprise: The death penalty is imposed more often when the victim is white.
The second is potentially ground-breaking:
It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.
It has never been conclusively proven that, all else being equal, blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites in the three decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Many experts, including some opposed to the death penalty, have said that evidence of that sort of direct discrimination is spotty and equivocal.
But the author of the new study, Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, found a robust relationship between race and the likelihood of being sentenced to death even after the race of the victim and other factors were held constant.
Liptak presents a lot of criticism of the methodology of the study. And makes the point, it's a "largely academic" matter:
Twenty-one years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that even solid statistical evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty did not offend the Constitution. The vote was 5 to 4, and the case was McCleskey v. Kemp.
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