Tuesday, March 9, 2010

U.S. Death Penalties Dwindling

U.S. Death Penalties Dwindling, Owing to Costs - TIME: "Fewer death sentences were imposed in 2009 in the U.S. than in any year since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976."

I found that article when I was directed to another Time story, "The Death Penalty: Racist, Classist and Unfair." Which is true, but the last time I researched the death penalty, it seemed far more classist than racist. If you factor for class, a disproportionately high number of both whites and blacks are executed, and a disproportionately low number of Hispanics are:

Percentage of people in poverty who are white: 50%
Percentage of people executed who are white: 58%

Percentage of people in poverty who are black: 25%
Percentage of people executed who are black: 34%

Percentage of people in poverty who are Hispanic: 23%
Percentage of people executed who are Hispanic: 6%

Percentage of people in poverty who are Asian: 3%
Percentage of people executed who are "other": 2%


  1. A thought:

    Does this calculate for illegal aliens? Often they are included in economic surveys. But most criminal aliens are deported (eventually, once it is discovered that they are aliens. And if I was illegal and facing the death penalty I would point that out quickly) with reduced or even commuted sentences.

  2. There was a big brouhaha in the last year or two about someone, I think a Mexican, who had been sentenced to death. Mexico wanted him deported. I don't remember if it happened.

  3. What happens to those statistics when you adjust for being convicted of murder? That would say more about how biased "imposition of the death penalty for a convicted murderer" is. Without that correction, there would appear to be a huge age-based bias.

  4. Seth, I haven't seen anything about age, but my guess is that a high percentage of convicted murderers are young, just 'cause those are the prime crime years.

  5. My understanding of the statistics is that the race of the victim matters more in sentencing than the race of the defendant; people of all races get harsher sentences if they kill white people.

  6. Emily, I keep coming back to class because of examples like OJ Simpson--poor whites who committed similar crimes face the death penalty, yet it isn't even considered by the prosecution for rich people of any hue.

  7. Also, my standard disclaimer: I'm not saying there's no racism; I'm saying classism is the greater factor.

  8. Hmm. I also wonder how class plays in cases where both race and class differ, and the black is of the superior class--what happens when a middle class black kills a poor white?

  9. (continued from above)

    What are these aggravating factors? The first in all states is killing a policeman on duty. Why is this important? Because the vast majority of street-duty policemen are white; 40 years ago when they started collecting these numbers, virtually ALL cops were white. Result? Copkillers get the death sentence whether they are black or white... but all the victims were white. Equal justice, "unequal" result.

    Killing during the commission of a crime elevates the killing to murder one. Example: a bank is robbed, the clerk is killed to prevent them from identifying the criminal. Result? Any robber is likely to go to stores on the white side of town- because that's where all the money is! Even in black neighborhoods, the owners are often white. So the robber gets the death sentence whether he's black or white, but either way the victim is white.

    Then there are burglars who are surprised in mid theft by the homeowner; they shoot the homeowner to get away. No burglar, black or white, is going to sneak into the ghetto to break into a one-room apartment. They go into the rich neighborhoods, which are overwhelmingly white. Once again, white victims on one of the few cases that draw the death penalty.

    I don't know what state you live in, but the aggravating factors that will draw the death penalty are public record, easily found. If you trace each type of crime individually, you will find a rough racial parity in sentencing...but if you search only the sentence and not the crime, it will look skewed.

    XXX also wrote:"If you're a black man murdering a white person, God help you." Unless you're OJ... which brings me to another factor: a rich man, regardless of color, is less likely to get the death sentence than a poor man. Rich men are statisticly more likely to be white. That wouldn't help ME any- *I* can't afford "the dream team" :) Contrariwise, killing a rich man is more likely to get you the death sentence than killing a poor one- whether the killer is black or white. Once again, the victim is more likely to be white, regardless of the color of the killer.

    Look up the numbers for yourself- you'll see that individual crime by crime, blacks and whites are treated much more fairly than you think they are. Look also at the cities where the mayor, chief of police, and prosecutor are all black(and that's happened a good number of times around the country)- they have the same stats.

  10. Joel, that makes a lot of sense. I'll have to see if any of my current textbooks make similar conclusions.

  11. Joel, that jibes with my research a few years back.

    But when I did it, the justice system still looked mighty racist when it came to drug crimes.

    Jeff, I'd love to see what you find.