Sunday, July 12, 2009

Race, Death Penalty & North Carolina: The Boger/Unah Study

July 12th, 2009
Dudley Sharp

One often hears that racial bias was established by the study, "Race and The Death Penalty in North Carolina", by UNC-CH professors Boger and Unah (1). It wasn't.

First, the only alleged racial “disparity” (not bias) uncovered in the study is based upon: “. . . the “death odds multiplier” is 3.5, indicating that, on average, the odds of receiving a death sentence are increased by a factor of 3.5 when the murder victim is white.”.

IF true, that 3.5 odds multiplier can mean a differential as low as 2%-4% – completely meaningless, based upon actual cases sent to death row.

NOTE: Many, in the media and elsewhere, misinterpreted the 3.5 as "times", a 250% differential, as opposed to the actual 3.5 "odds multiplier" which may be a differential as low as 2-4% .

Did Boger/Unah ever clarify this issue? If they did, I haven't found it. The same problem exists with David Baldus and his work in Philadelphia and within Baldus' analysis that has caused so much misinterpretation in SCOTUS' McCleskey v Georgia case. (2)

Secondly, the North Carolina study looks at 1993-1997, or 16% of the 32 years of current death penalty laws and 99 out of the 383 death sentences, or 26%. In the unlikely case the study is sound, the results may show no discrimination. In the context of the full 32 year database, this study is irrelevant in discussing the death penalty in North Carolina, today.

Thirdly, academics, lawmakers, media (I hope) and others have been trying, without success, to get the database/methodology on the Boger/Unah study for nearly a decade. Is there a legitimate academic reason for withholding that information? Of course not.


(1) "Race and The Death Penalty in North Carolina: An Empirical Analysis 1993-1997", page 4, 4/16/2001

(2) See "The Odds of Execution" within "How numbers are tricking you"


"The Math Behind Race, Crime and Sentencing Statistics"

see also

RACE: A Death Penalty Primer – No Bias in Death Penalty Sentencing

Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims

Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp
e-mail, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBC, 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