New Research Examines Racial Stereotypes and the Death Penalty

"Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts Capital-Sentencing Outcomes" contains new research on race conducted by professors from Stanford, UCLA, Yale and Cornell, led by Prof. Jennifer Eberhardt. The article, to be published in the May 2006 edition of Psychological Science, examines whether the likelihood of being sentenced to death is influenced by the degree to which a black defendant is perceived to have a stereotypically black appearance.  Using data from a 1998 study in Pennsylvania by Prof. David Baldus, the research tended to show that, among black defendants who kill white victims, the more stereotypically black a defendant is perceived to be, the more likely that person is to be sentenced to death, even controlling for other appropriate variables.

Using more than 600 death-eligible cases from Philadelphia in which a black defendant was charged with killing a white victim, the researchers found that 24.4% of defendants who appeared less stereotypically black received a death sentence, while 57.5% of those who appeared more stereotypically black received a death sentence. Students at Stanford rated the degree of stereotypical features from photos of black male defendants who had been convicted of murder in Philadelphia. 

In a similar examination of black defendants accused of killing black victims, the death sentencing rates of those who were perceived as looking more stereotypically black and those who appeared less stereotypically black were nearly identical (45% and 46.6%, respectively).

The study was conducted by professors Jennifer L. Eberhardt (Stanford) , Paul G. Davies (UCLA), Valerie J. Purdie-Vaughns (Yale University), and Sheri Lynn Johnson (Cornell Law School). (Psychological Science, Volume 17, Number 5 (2006)).  See Race and Studies.