Race and the Death Penalty in California

RACE AND THE DEATH PENALTY IN CALIFORNIA

A recent study to be published in the Santa Clara Law Review found that the race of the victim in the underlying murder greatly affected whether a defendant would be sentenced to death.

Generally, there are more Hispanic and African American victims of murder in California:

race1
--California Murder Victims 1990-1999 - Office of Vital Statistics; based on murders where race of victim was known;  Whites, African American, and Other are non-Hispanic members of those races.

But in death penalty cases, there are many more white-victim cases than Hispanic or African-American-victim cases:
race2
--Victims of murder in California where the defendant was sentenced to death 1990-1999; based on 263 death sentences where there was a single murder victim.

Conclusions from the study:
Although more Hispanics and African Americans are victims of murder in California, white-victim cases are the ones most likely to end in a death sentence:
  • Those who kill non-Latino whites are more than three times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill African-Americans.
  • Those who kill non-Latino whites are more than four times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill Latinos.
  • A person convicted of the same crime is more than three times more likely to be sentenced to die simply because the crime was committed in a predominantly white, rural community rather than a diverse, urban area.
G. Pierce & M. Radelet, "The Impact of Legally Inappropriate Factors on Death Sentencing for California Homicides, 1990-1999," 46 Santa Clara Law Review ___ (2005 forthcoming)).  See also  Race and Arbitrariness.