Saturday, July 11, 2009

Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias

Dudley Sharp

7 studies are reviewed, herein

For emphasis, population count is totally irrelevant, regarding any consideration of class or race/ethnicity bias in the application of the death penalty. The only relevant factors in such a review are class, race/ethnic distribution of murderers and their victims in capital murders, as well as criminal history, the specific circumstances of the crime(s) and a review of individual prosecutorial jurisdictions.

Study 1: Drs. Stephen Klein and John Rolph: "After accounting for some of the many factors that may influence penalty decisions, neither race of the defendant nor race of the victim appreciably improved prediction of who was sentenced to death . . . ". "Relationship of Offender and Victim Race to Death Penalty Sentences in California", Jurimetrics Journal, 32, Fall 1991, aka The Rand Corporation Study)

Study 2: Smith College Professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers found that legal variables, such as prior criminal history and the aggravated nature of the murder, are the proven basis for imposition of the death penalty. The black/white variation in sentencing has generally been reduced to zero when such legal variables are introduced as controls. "Execution by Quota?", The Public Interest, Summer 1994

Study 3: NO BIAS IN DEATH SENTENCING: U of Maryland's Death Penalty Study (1)

The following are direct quotes from the Executive Summary of the U of Maryland study. NOTE: In earlier stages of the process, allegations of bias or some improper racial disproportionality are unfounded (2).

Race of the victim

"The race of the victim effect does not hold up, however, at the decision of the state's attorney to advance a case to penalty trial and at the decision of the judge or jury to impose a death sentence given that a penalty trial has occurred." p 27

"The race of the victim does not appear to matter when the decision is to advance a case to the penalty phase or to sentence a defendant to death after a penalty phase
hearing." page 29

The victim's race has no impact on seeking or giving death sentences

"Among the subset of cases where the case actually does reach a penalty trial, the victim's race does not have a significant impact on the imposition of a death sentence." page 35

The study shows no race of the victim effect in death sentencing in Maryland.

"When the prosecuting jurisdiction is added to the model the effect for the victims race diminishes substantially, and is no longer statistically significant." page 32

When you look at the capital murder cases, from each, separate jurisdiction, individually, any alleged race of the victim effect cannot be found.

" . . . any attempt to deal with any racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty in Maryland cannot ignore the substantial variability that exists in different state's attorney's offices in the processing of death cases." p 34

It is important to look at how each jurisdiction handles their capital cases, because each jurisdiction is different. When that is done, no bias in death sentencing is found.

Race of victim and defendant

"There is no race of the offender / victim effect at either the decision to advance a case to penalty hearing or the decision to sentence a defendant to death
given a penalty hearing." page 30

Neither the race of the defendant nor the race of the victim have an impact on seeking or giving death sentences.

Race of the defendant

" . . . there is no evidence that the race of the defendant matters at any stage once case characteristics are controlled for." page 26

" . . . we found no evidence that the race of the defendant matters in processing of capital cases in the state." p 26

Maryland is not looking at race, but is concentrating on the nature of the murders.

Study 4: No Racial Bias in the New Jersey Death Penalty System

New Jersey For release: February 11, 2003
For further information: Winnie Comfort, AOC (609) 292-9580
Report on Proportionality
Trenton, N.J.

The 2002 report essentially mirrors the findings contained in the 2001 report, and may be summarized as follows:

--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases advance to penalty trial. Although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants than African-American defendants advance to the penalty phase, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques. There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that the race of the defendant affects which cases result in imposition of the death penalty. Again, although bivariate analysis reveals that a greater proportion of death-eligible white defendants are sentenced to death than African-American defendants, that finding is not supported by regression studies and application of case-sorting techniques.
--There is statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than African-American victim cases to advance to penalty trial, but that finding is eradicated when county variability is taken into account. A disproportionate number of minority victim cases are tried in counties with the lowest overall rates of progression to penalty trial, while less urban counties with a high concentration of white victim cases have higher rates of capital prosecutions. Although Judge Baime notes that county variability may itself be a problem, he offers no opinion on the subject because that issue is well beyond the contours of his report.
--There is no sustained, statistically significant evidence that white victim cases are more likely than minority victim cases to result in imposition of the death penalty

The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted the 2002 annual report prepared by Judge David S. Baime, a retired Appellate Division judge, on the monitoring of proportionality review in capital punishment cases in New Jersey. The Supreme Court adopted a monitoring system in 2000 to determine whether racial discrimination played a role in the administration of New Jersey's capital cases.

In his capacity as a "special master," a role that requires extrajudicial expertise and work with court-appointed experts, Judge Baime prepared the "Report to the New Jersey Supreme Court: Systemic Proportionality Review Project 2001-2002 Term." .

Judge Baime was assisted by statistical analysts David Weisburd, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The University of Maryland, College Park, and Joseph Naus, a professor at Rutgers University. In an effort to provide the most accurate analysis possible, the monitoring system approved by the Court consists of three different statistical strategies: bivariate analyses, regression studies and case-sorting techniques. In order to establish systemic disproportionality, a defendant must relentlessly document the risk of racial disparity. This requires that the outcomes produced by the three modes of analysis substantially converge, or lead to the conclusion that racial discrimination plays a part in capital sentencing.

The three modes of analysis were applied to three separate decision points: death outcomes at penalty trials, death outcomes among all death-eligible cases, as determined by Judge Baime and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and advancement of death-eligible cases to penalty trials. Three identifiable groups--African-Americans, whites and Hispanics--were examined, and possible disparities in terms of the race or ethnicity of the defendant and the race or ethnicity of the victim were considered.

Study 5: Pro & Con: The Death Penalty in Black and White, by Dudley Sharp
IntellectualCapital.com, 6/24/99.
stored at www.prodeathpenalty.com/racism.htm

I don't know about you, but when I get into a discussion about the death penalty, my first thoughts go to the victim and to the brutality of the murder. That is the foundation of the just nature of the death penalty.

Too often these days, however the death penalty is discussed in different terms. Inevitably, with the racial history of this country, the effect of race in the application of the death penalty has become a central part of the death-penalty discourse. This is particularly true as some politicians are making the case for a death-penalty moratorium, in part to consider whether the death penalty is inherently racist.

All too often, however, those arguments are spurious. In the death penalty debate, it should be the facts, and not the hype, that are in be black and white.

A closer look at the statistics

Often such discussion begins with the obvious: the race of the defendant. The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that black murderers represent 35% of those executed, white murderers 56%. As the argument goes, this must be evidence of systemic racism, as blacks represent 12% of the population, whites 74%.

Fortunately, the United States does not execute people based on their population counts but on the murders they commit. As blacks represent 47% of murderers and whites 37%, we see that whites are twice as likely to be executed for committing murder as are their black counterparts.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that whites sentenced to death are executed 17 months more quickly than blacks. With 98% of all head prosecutors in the United States being white, according to DPIC, how is such a result possible? Maybe prosecutors, judges and juries are focusing on the crimes and not the race of the defendant.

That is not the case, say anti-death penalty groups, such as Amnesty International, and now the United Nations. If you adjust for the specific aggravating factors present within capital crimes, you find clear evidence of racism.

Death-penalty opponents note, for example, that the Supreme Court, in the famous race-based challenge to the death penalty (McCleskey v. Kemp), found in 1987 that those who murderer whites were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murder blacks, under similar circumstances.

David Baldus (3), who did the statistical study on McCleskey's behalf, also completed a recent study in Philadelphia where it is was reported to show that black murderers were four times more likely to receive a death sentence than white murderers. With such results, how can anyone dispute the racist application of the death penalty?

Quite easily.

The Supreme Court, as well as many others, confused odds with multiples. The data reflect odds of 4-to-1, not four times more likely.

What difference does it make?

In Baldus' Philadelphia (3) study, we find that if only 2% more white murderers had been sentenced to death and only 2.5% fewer black murderers had been sentenced to death, then each group would have been sentenced to death by juries at the same rate -- a far cry from the 300% difference stated within the incorrect interpretation of "four times"!

A punishment that fits the crimes

The next issue raised is the victim's race. While blacks and whites comprise about an equal number of murder victims, the ratio of white-to-black victims in death-penalty cases is about 7-to-1. This has given rise to the allegation that the "system" only cares about white murder victims. A horrible accusation, if true.

However, the ratio of white-to-black victims in the aggravated circumstances necessary for a capital murder conviction (rape, robbery, car-jacking, burglary, police murders, serial/multiple murders, etc.) is from 4-to-1 to 8-to-1 -- numbers consistent with the victim ratios on death row.

The final resting place for the racism charge lies within those cases where blacks have been executed for murdering whites and whites have been executed for murdering blacks. There have been 144 blacks and 10 whites executed under such circumstances, or a ratio of 14-to-1. As blacks are about 2.5 times more likely to murder whites than the other way around, there appears to be a huge disparity in such executions. Is racism the reason?

If we look at robbery, the aggravated crime found most often in capital cases, we find that when there is a robbery with injury, the ratio of black robber/white victims versus white robbers/black victims is 21-to-1.

Again, when looking at the circumstances consistent with capital crimes, we find no evidence of racial bias.

The determining factor for sentencing in death-penalty cases is what it should be -- the aggravating nature of the crimes. Both the Rand Corp. study of 1991 and the research presented by Smith College professors Stanley Rothman and Stephen Powers in 1994 confirm that finding. In other words, it appears that any racial variations present within the data are reflective of the crimes themselves and not racial bias within the system. A review of those studies, as well as of criminal-justice statistics, within the context of the aggravating circumstances present within capital murders and the related statutes, produces the same conclusion.

Don't assume the worst motives

There will always be some variables of race, ethnicity and class within any study of criminal-justice practices, and based on historic, as well as current prejudices, we can never lower our guard. Because all studies are subject to poor protocols, bias and misinterpretation, we must make reasoned judgments based on as many respected considerations as we may have at our disposal.

And even if criminal-justice statistics did not show the obvious correlation between crimes and the application of the death penalty, we should note what the Supreme Court stated in McCleskey: "Where the discretion that is fundamental to our criminal justice process is involved, we decline to assume that what is unexplained [by measured factors] is invidious." Sound ideas should not be eliminated based on misguided statistics.

In the case of the death penalty, the facts lead to only one conclusion. No moratorium is necessary.

Study 6: Death Penalty Opponents Distortions are the Real Story

"To properly protect the people in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions like it, we must restore public confidence in and support of capital punishment, so that prosecutors can seek it in appropriate cases, and jurors will impose it. The first step toward that end is to debunk the myth that capital punishment is imposed discriminatorily. The numbers are there, in the opponents's own studies, once we cut through the spin and look at the facts."

Smoke and Mirrors on Race and the Death Penalty, Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Engage Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 2, 10/2003 www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/EngageArticle.pdf

Study 7: Full Review Finds no Bias

"From 1976-1995, 5 white murderers have been put to death for the murder of black persons and 101 black murderers have been put to death for the murder of white persons (NAACP LDF, 1996). Opponents falsely contend that this is evidence of racism in the "system". That 101:5 ratio, or 20:1, is consistent with statistics that show aggravated crimes (those crimes committed with the murder which may make a crime eligible for the death penalty) are committed by blacks against whites in far greater numbers than by whites against blacks. For all violent crimes, there are ten times as many black offenders (2,016,939) involved in white victim violent crimes as there are white offenders (210,869) involved in black victim violent crimes, or a 10:1 ratio. (The State of Violent Crime in America, pg. 12,1/96, data derived from Criminal Victimization in the U.S., 1993, BJS forthcoming, tables 42 and 48. Multiple offenders were assumed to be two offenders for calculation purposes.) In addition, blacks are nearly three times as likely to murder whites (849), as whites are to murder blacks (304), or 3:1 (Sourcebook 1994, BJS 1995, table 3.123). IF murder rates are statistically consistent within the violent crime category, as McCleskey et al indicate, then blacks are, statistically, by a 30:1 (10:1 X 3:1) ratio, more likely to murder whites, than whites are to murder blacks, in those circumstances where an additional aggravating factor is present (see C2). These are those crimes most eligible for the death penalty. That statistically projected ratio of 30:1 is hardly inconsistent with the 20:1 ratio for black offender(s)/white victim vs white offender(s)/black victim executions. The most relevant aggravated crime is robbery with injury, wherein blacks are 21 times more likely to be involved in such crimes as are whites. This 21:1 ratio represents 1.4 million black offender(s)/white victim vs. 68,000 white offender(s)/black victim for robbery with injury crimes (JFA, using BJS, 1977-84 data). IF overall murder statistics are consistent, within this crime category, as McCleskey et al suggests, then there is a 30-60:1 ratio of black on white vs white on black murders within this robbery/murder category. (From 1977-1984)."

Excerpt from "C. RACE, SENTENCING AND THE DEATH PENALTY", paragraph No. 5., DEATH PENALTY AND SENTENCING INFORMATION In the United States, 10/1/97, by Dudley Sharp, http://prodeathpenalty.com/DP.html#C.Race

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Conclusion

You cannot remove all bias from human endeavors.

The weight of the evidence is that there is no systemic racial/ethnic bias within the modern US death penalty. Police, prosecutors, judges and jurors, overwhelmingly, are honorable folks, working to do the right thing in any given case.

The death penalty has the most extensive due process protections, meaning they have the most thorough reviews, inclusive of bias, in the pre trial, trial and appellate reviews.

With so few death sentences, over such a long period of time, statistical variances are, often, the result of very small numerical or percentage comparisons, which cannot and do not establish racial or ethnic bias or are the result of very poor studies, as Baldus' in McCleskey.

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1) Executive Summary: An Empirical Analysis of Maryland's Death Sentencing System with Respect to the Influence of Race and Legal Jurisdiction, www.urhome.umd.edu/newsdesk/pdf/exec.pdf

2) Minority Report, well hidden, between pages 128 and 129 (see p 8-12), part of Final Report to the General Assembly, Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, 12/12/08
http://www.goccp.maryland.gov/capital-punishment/documents/death-penalty-commission-final-report.pdf

3) I am, particularly, wary of David Baldus' works or anyone who refers, approvingly, of his work. See Joseph Katz' deconstruction of Baldus' work for McCleskey, as well as:

"The Math Behind Race, Crime and Sentencing Statistics"
John Allen Paulos, Los Angeles Times, 7/12/98
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jul/12/opinion/op-2965

and

"The Odds of Execution" within "How numbers are tricking you
Arnold Barnett, MIT Technology Review October, 1994
http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/4834/barnett.htm


REBUTTAL TO MORE STANDARD ANTI DEATH PENALTY DECEPTIONS

Anti death penalty arguments are either false or the pro death penalty arguments are stronger.

The Innocents Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy
and
THE DEATH PENALTY: SAVING MORE INNOCENT LIVES
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-innocent-frauds-standard-anti-death.html

OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS:
A review of the debate
and
MURDERERS MUCH PREFER LIFE OVER EXECUTION
99.7% of murderers tell us "Give me life, not execution"
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/03/of-course-death-penalty-deters.html

Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/02/death-penalty-cost-saving-money.html

RACE & THE DEATH PENALTY: A REBUTTAL TO THE RACISM CLAIMS
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/07/rebuttal-death-penalty-racism-claims.html

"The Death Penalty: Neither Hatred nor Revenge"
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Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims

copyright 1998-2013 Dudley Sharp Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp
email sharpjfa@aol.com
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.