STUDIES: Racial Bias in Houston's Use of Death Penalty

In a new study in Harris County (Houston), Texas, criminologist Scott Phillips found significant racial and gender disparities in the application of the death penalty under former District Attorney Charles Rosenthal. Prof. Phillips of the University of Denver examined homicides from 2001 to 2008 and found that death sentences were imposed on behalf of white victims at 2.5 times the rate one would expect if the system were race neutral. Furthermore, death sentences were imposed on behalf of white-female victims at 5 times the rate one would expect if the system were blind to race and gender. Phillips noted that these disparities were particularly troubling because Rosenthal was forced from office in a scandal involving racial improprieties in the workplace. In a previous study, Prof. Phillips also found racial disparities in the application of the death penalty under the previous Harris County D.A., Johnny Holmes, during the latter part of his term (1992-99).

(S. Phillips, "Continued Racial Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment: The Rosenthal Era," 50 Houston Law Review 131 (2012; DPIC posted February 1, 2013). See Race.  Listen to DPIC's podcast on Race.  Read more Studies.