STUDIES: Research Shows That Race of the Victim Matters in North Carolina Death Penalty

A recent study in North Carolina found that the odds of a defendant receiving a death sentence were three times higher if the person was convicted of killing a white person than if he had  killed a black person. The study, conducted by Professors Michael Radelet and Glenn Pierce, examined 15,281 homicides in the state between 1980 and 2007, which resulted in 368 death sentences. Even after accounting for additional factors, such as multiple victims or homicides accompanied with a rape, robbery or other felony, researchers found that race was still a significant predictor of who was sentenced to death.  The study will be published in the North Carolina Law Review. It is the first examination of the North Carolina death penalty since the state passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009. The law allows murder suspects and death row inmates to present statistical evidence of racial bias to ensure that the defendant’s or victim’s race does not play a key role in the defendant’s sentence.

Michael Radelet is a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Glenn Pierce is a research scientist in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

(M. Burns, "Study: Race plays role in N.C. death penalty," WRAL.com, July 22, 2010).  See Race and Studies.