Racial Discrimination in the Application of the Death Penalty Research Paper

  • Length: 5 pages
  • Sources: 5
  • Subject: Criminal Justice
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #94004277

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Racial Discrimination in the Context Of the Death Penalty

There is much controversy with regard to topics like racial discrimination and the death penalty in the contemporary society. When these two come together the matter is even more controversial, taking into account that opponents to both concepts can come together with the purpose of expressing their issues with the idea of racial discrimination cases in relationship with individuals sentenced to death. When considering that several studies have shown how non-white individuals are more likely to be provided with the death penalty, it appears that the authorities are to a certain degree unable to abandon prejudice when considering race and persons who commit serious crimes.

One of the first cases in the U.S. To raise public awareness concerning the dangers associated with individuals being sentenced to death on account of their skin color is the case of William L. Maxwell, a man sentenced to death in Arkansas in 1962 because he committed rape. This particular case generated much debate as the masses started to consider the fact that the suspect's race played an important role in getting the jury to provide the death penalty. Marvin Wolfgang's study concerning the matter seriously contributed to society's perception of the topic. "Marvin Wolfgang's Philadelphia study of criminal homicide revealed that black men between the ages of 20 and 24 had a rate of conviction more than twenty-five times greater than white men of the same age group." (Flowers 1990, p. 87)

Samuel R. Gross' study "David Baldus and the Legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp" is probably one of the most recognized documents relating to the death penalty and how it can be influenced by matters like race. The article relates to the McCleskey v. Kemp trial and to how Baldus managed to demonstrate that the race factor played an important role in shaping the Supreme Court's understanding of Warren McCleskey's crime. McCleskey claimed that Baldus' analysis of the case had shown how racial bias was one of the main reasons why he was provided with the death sentence. Similar to the Maxwell case, the McCleskey trial stood as a direct attack on the U.S.' ability to install fair means of assessment. "McCleskey was a turning point in the constitutional regulation of the death penalty in the United States, and it has influenced our collective view of race in the criminal-justice system generally." (Gross 1907)

The Baldus study was essential in helping the world gain a more complex understanding of the McCleskey case. While most people are inclined to consider that the Baldus study emphasized how African-Americans were more likely to be sentenced to death as a result of committing serious crimes than white people, the reality is that it actually addresses a different and yet related topic. The study actually emphasizes that individuals convicted of killing white victims are more probable to be sentenced to death than persons who kill non-white people. The study basically demonstrated that a case's outcome could be seriously affected depending on the race of the victim (Gross 1907).

When considering matters in the contemporary society, it appears that the world is yet to have acknowledged the importance of providing people with fair opportunities. "Black defendants facing trial in Houston -- the death penalty capital of America -- are more than three times as likely to face a possible death sentence than whites, new academic research has revealed." (Pilkington) This demonstrates the seriousness of the situation and the fact that discrimination continues to be a major factor influencing juries.

By comparing cases involving individuals responsible for having committed similar crimes, one can easily determine whether or not the justice system has the tendency to discriminate particular race groups. The case of Duane Buck, a death row prisoner in Houston who is having his case reconsidered in Texas courts, is especially intriguing when considering the context of individuals being provided with death sentences as a result of their skin color influencing juries to discriminate. There have been 20 cases that closely resembled Buck's condition and of all the 21 individuals (including Buck) being in this respective situation, seven from the total number of ten African-Americans were sentenced to death while only one of the five white defendants were sent for capital trial. "There is reason to believe that Duane Buck's race played a role in the decision to advance his case to a penalty trial and impose a death sentence." (Paternoster 7)

The June 16, 2011 execution of Lee Taylor is certainly one of the limited number of cases involving a white person being executed for killing an African-American. "When Mr. Taylor was executed, it was reported that he was the second white person in Texas executed for killing a black person." (Dow) This contributes to the belief that the death penalty is still arbitrary and racist. With individuals like Lee Taylor being among the only white persons being executed for their actions while the number of non-white persons experiencing a similar outcome is rapidly increasing, it appears that it is going to be long before society actually experiences significant progress in the field.

While there is a great deal of evidence to show that the death penalty has a strong relationship with race, the United States Supreme Court considers that statistical probabilities are not enough to demonstrate that racial discrimination is actually related to the idea of capital punishment. The Inter-American Commission's analysis of the William Andrews case involving a note saying "hang the nigger" being found in the jury room generated little to no results that could affect the outcome of the case. "Because the judge lectured the jury on the subject of racial discrimination after the racist note was discovered, the United States Supreme Court considered that any possible damage had been corrected, and that the conviction and sentence of death could stand." (Schabas 2002, 322)

The McCleskey case had certainly generated much debate as a result of how it made it possible for society as a whole to consider the idea of capital punishment in the U.S. And whether or not it was as effective as it seemed. The defendant's lawyers demonstrated that Georgia courts typically condemned black people who killed whites four times as often than when the victim was African-American. This is when Baldus' studies come in and enable readers to understand the gravity of the situation. His interest in analyzing the state of Georgia's attitude toward African-Americans made him better acquainted with McCleskey's case. It was then when he came across the defendant's determination to demonstrate that his sentence was largely influenced by his race and by his victim's race (Baldus & Woodworth 1990, p. 311).

Baldus' observation of the case brought along a series of intriguing concepts, such as the fact that the individuals involved in the trial were unhesitant about fabricating information in order to make sure that the defendant would be provided with the death penalty. "Judge Forrester held that, in violation of Giglio v. United States, the jury had not been properly informed that a key witness, Offie Evans, had been promised assistance by a detective in connection with federal criminal charges pending against him at the time in exchange for his testimony that McCleskey had admitted his guilt to him in a "jailhouse confession." (Baldus & Woodworth 1990, p. 342) This further contributes to emphasizing the fact that the American justice system has the tendency to express particular interest in sentencing to death non-white individuals who are guilty of having murdered a white person.

There are currently numerous non-white individuals on the death row in the U.S. And while some meet all of the requirements necessary for them to be sentenced to death, others have probably gotten there as a result of their skin color. All things considered, capital…

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