Academic Study Finds Racial Bias in Death Penalty Cases: But It May Not Be What You Think

A study led by Catherine Grosso and Barbara O’Brien, associate professors at the Michigan State University College of Law, has found that death row cases in the nation’s criminal justice system are plagued by racial bias. But the research shows that the race of the defendant does not have much impact in death penalty cases. Where racial bias creeps into the criminal justice process in these cases involves the race of the victim.

Researchers examined more than 1,500 cases where a death penalty sentence could have been levied against the defendant but was not and cases where the death penalty was imposed.

Dr. Grosso stated that “the White victim effect was the clearest and strongest finding in the study analysis.” The statistics show that defendants were twice as likely to receive the death penalty if the victim was White than if the victim was Black.

“The dismissing of Black-on-Black crime is so salient right now,” Dr. Grosso explains. “Race still matters in the criminal justice system, and it shouldn’t.”

The study, “Untangling the Role of Race in Capital Charging and Sentencing in North Carolina, 1990-2009,” was published in a recent issue of the North Carolina Law Review. It may be downloaded by clicking here.


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  1. Frank Golden says:

    I would imagine that if we looked at the victims income levels we would see that the race of the victim was, in fact, less of a factor than the income of the victim. Traditionally, if you kill someone of wealth, you are more likely to get the death penalty; especially if you are not from their same class of wealth. This is more of a Class issue and less of a race issue when you look at it from an economical stand point.

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