Example Of Research Paper On The Color Of The Death Penalty: Relation Of Capital Punishment And Race
The hue of a person’s skin and whether the person plays the role of a defendant or victim essays a critical and reprehensible part in deciding who is meted out the death penalty in the United States. In fact, the evidence shows that “colored people” have tallied an excessive 43 percent of overall state-implemented capital offense execution since the mid-1970s and approximately 55 percent of those that are on “death row.” Though “white victims” count for approximately 50 percent of all felony victims, the literature shows that 8 out of 10 victims in all capital case victims were Caucasian.
David Baldus, Iowa University law professor, discovered that in the 1980s, Georgia state prosecutors wanted the imposition of the death penalty for approximately 7 out of 10 cases involving African American defendants white Caucasian victims. This figure was inverted in the case for “white” defendants with African American victims. Here, the prosecution sought the imposition of capital punishment for 15 percent of “white” defendants involving cases with African American cases. Prosecutors have unbridled judgment in the types of cases that can be elevated into “capital crime cases.” It must be noted that of the 38 US jurisdictions that implement the death penalty, almost all of the prosecutors are Caucasian (American Civil Liberties Union 1).
However, the most well-known legal issue engaging the issues of race and capital punishment is McCleskey. In the case facts, Warren McCleskey, a recidivist offender, attacked and murdered Frank Schlatt, an Atlanta, Georgia police officer, during a robbery in a furniture store. McCleskey, in his habeas corpus motion in Federal court, alleged that his sentencing was contaminated by racial bias. The primary evidence for the allegation were two research studies developed by Baldus and his colleagues; the other study was commissioned by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund for the expressed purpose of assailing the death penalty; the issue is best remembered for its holding that though it can be proven by the study of Baldus what McCleskey claims that it can prove, McCleskey still did not have a case.
Nevertheless, the Baldus study was accorded “undeservedly good press” owing to the manner that McCleskey was treated upon appeal. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, sitting as a collegial body, lauded the district court “for its outstanding endeavor” in evaluating the integrity of the Baldus body of research, and there is a limited amount of speculation that the analysis of the “factual finding” of the study would have found that the study was flawed under the “clearly erroneous” benchmark. On review, the High Court deliberated solely on this component of the decision.
The Court rejected reviewing the decision on the validity of the research; regrettably, the Supreme Court, during the summation proceedings of the literature in the study of Baldus, effected a grievous mistake that has since been used in a militant and flawed comprehension ever since. The legal foundation of McCleskey has been investigated and analyzed many times by a great number of scholars. The decision was regarded as a significant legal triumph for the states, with the ruling completely silencing the introduction of these kinds of statistical analyses in cases (Scheidegger 157).
It is possible that the McCleskey court was more uneasy that a ruling of discrimination in violation of the Constitution would severely disrupt the criminal justice mechanisms of the states; Justice Powell insinuates this possibility when he proffers that a favorable ruling in McCleskey can seriously undermine the very foundations of the criminal justice system in the country. With this in view, a possible positive ruling could legitimize accusations of bias and bigotry as well as allegations of sexual bias, or even subjective discrimination based on the facial features of a person, or the physical stature of a person (Baldus, Woodworth, Zuckerman, Weiner, Broffitt 1734).
Nevertheless, the appeals court ruled not to deliberate on this factor of the decision, instead opting to proceed by “assuming the integrity of the research and anchoring their decision that the research literature, though it can be proven correct, will only help in supporting the decision of the judge’s decision regarding the “clearly erroneous” benchmark, but mandates it.
In many jurisdictions in the United States, litigators, judges, and sentencing phase jurors are almost always “white” even in cases where the suspects are not. The logic here is that “white” jury members are likely to be less compassionate with African American suspects or to relate to African American defendants. Definitive evidence proffers that majority of the stakeholders in the system, African American or not, regards adolescent African American males as more deserving to be meted more brutal punishments as these are more likely to commit violent crimes, morally bankrupt, and pose a severe threat to the peace and order in the community.
The threat from African American offenders in the system is especially critical when lawyers who speak for them in court proceedings harbor racial profiles that weaken the strength and status of their legal tasks. The threat of the “race-of-defendant” as well as the “race-of-victim” is also amplified when selection of jury members result in the inordinate underrepresentation of African American in the jury composition in criminal trial proceedings. The underrepresentation of the African American sector is a far reaching and extensive problem in the criminal justice system to this day (Baldus, Woodworth, Zuckerman, Weiner, Broffitt 1725).
As “whites” are thoroughly inclined to support the dispositional description of African Americans in the crime scales, it comes as no surprise that “whites” tend to be collectively resistant, highly opposed, to the position that the death penalty is racially biased and extremely discriminatory. Majority of “whites” are of the belief that African Americans are imprisoned because these deserve to be punished, as if the color of the person’s skin is enough to warrant the imposition of the death penalty and not due to the racist inclination of the criminal justice system.
Hence, when “whites” are posed with the query arguing against the imposition of the death penalty on the factor of the suspect’s race, the “whites” profess a fierce rejection of the posits to a point that these are indirectly giving support for the imposition of capital punishment compared to the level where there were no arguments being posed to them (Peffley, Hurwitz 1006).
Racial bias in death penalty cases operate when the defendant is sentenced to suffer the ultimate punishment either solely due or in a large part to their race. Cases that are decided by virtue of the race of the defendant operate when the officers of the court-the judge, jury, or the prosecutor- are impacted and the factor of race heightens the possibility of the defendant to be sent to the “gallows.” Compared to “race-of-defendant” cases, “race-of-victim” cases operate when court officials weigh the race of the victim as a major indicator that the suspect will be meted out the death sentence.
Positions critical of capital punishment have embraced the arguments derived from the biblical to the economic. Nevertheless, of the array of arguments ranged against the death penalty, two have been prominent in the discussions. In the evaluation of the abstracts of New York Times by Baumgartner, De Boef, and Boydtsun (2004), the three found that the death penalty evolved into a new argument, moving from the point of decency and conflicts with the law to the possibility that innocent individuals may have been erroneously sent to death row.
This later morphed into the posit that racial discrimination is a dominant factor in the application and dispensation of capital punishment. There is growing body of evidence that the imposition of the death penalty under the current dispensational system has been “racialized” in the thinking of the general public.
American “whites” often correlate race and criminality, profiling and categorizing racial boilerplates of African Americans when considering punishments. More imperatively, in the research of Soss et al (2003), racial discrimination was one of the strongest indicators of the sentiments of the “whites” towards the African Americans in society. Conversely, African Americans regard the death penalty as an inordinately racial symbol of punishment (Peffley Hurwitz 998).
The High Court, in Lockett v Ohio, 438 U.S. 586,604 (1978), majority of the justices opined that states are allowed to have the jury deliberate on “any aspect of a defendant’s character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death,” these are obligated to do so. That concept has been supported and even strengthened in a number of decisions. The question here is whether the Lockett court jettisoned any discrimination eradicating principles set forth in Furman? In the opinion of Justices White, Scalia, and Thomas believed that the Court did (Scheidegger 149-150).
The traditional wisdom on public sentiment with regards to the death penalty in the United States, as condensed by Ellsworth and Gross, is that the people “feel strongly about the death penalty, [but] know little about it, [and] feel no need to know more about it.” The product of these sentiments, as the authors posit, are stances that are crystallized and passive to challenge arguments that are opposed to the belief of the person. Here, there is a need to examine the reasons why there have been swings in the support for the use of capital punishment over the years.
Gallup polls show a marked rise in the support for the use of the death penalty from 1966 to 1994, consistent with a significant rise in criminality in the same period. Withal, though there has been a surge in cases that challenge the integrity of the rulings, in part due to rulings being overturned due to DNA findings, being reported in the media in the latter part of the 1990s. With rising number of convictions being overturned, endorsement for capital punishment suddenly dropped; standing at over 80 percent in 1994, approval ratings dropped to just 66 percent by 2000.
Furthermore, support varied significantly on the characteristics of the subject and the options that are available, with statistics for imposing the death penalty on youths and juveniles and the mentally infirm the lowest among all the variables. Opting to sentence offenders to life imprisonment without an opportunity to avail of parole also receives favorable acceptance from the general public.
Nevertheless, it is inured that sentiments and dispositions towards the death penalty are stimulated and formed by events, to the characteristics of the subject, and that of the alternatives that are available, the traditional comprehension associated with capital punishment-that the mindsets toward the death penalty are unchangeable- is extremely inflated. In this light, any evaluation of the sentiments towards the death penalty must factor in the “responsiveness: of the sentiments, as well as the purported resistance of these attitudes to change (Peffley, Hurwitz 996).
In McGautha v California, 402 U.S 183 (1971), the United States Supreme Court deliberated on arguments that ‘due process’ mandated benchmarks for sentencing in capital cases in the context of the proffered Penal Code of the American Law Institute. In the immediate instance after an extensive discussion on the history of the proposal, Justice Harlan and the Court dismissed the position in a 6-3 vote. By rejecting the position, the High Bench rebuffed the concept that “aggravating and mitigating factors” in capital sentencing can be placed in a conclusive list.
However, the ruling only lasted a year, with the High Court reversed itself in the landmark Furman v Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). In a short opinion, the Court ruled that the “imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and the Fourteenth Amendments.” The Court did not seek to justify their reversal; for an establishment that is charged with crystallizing the law, this was an institutional collapse of monumental proportions.
There is a lingering confusion on why the High Court reversed itself, though much of the literature is anecdotal in nature. Though racial bigotry is not cited in the Furman rulings, the factor of bias can be deduced in the essence rather than in the letter of the decision. One of the most incisive Furman evaluations came in the acceding opinion rendered by Justice Clarence Thomas in Graham v Collins, 506 U.S 461 (1993). After marking the references to racial bias in the opinions and the conclusions of the individual Justices that the claim for racial bias had not been proven before the Court, Justice Thomas noted that undergirding the reprobation of the Court against the misguided discretion lay the demon of racial bias-the “paradigmatic and irrational sentencing factor (Scheidegger 147-149).
The concern of racial bias in the dispensation of the death penalty is not centered on whether the juries sentenced “factually innocent” accused to suffer the death penalty owing to their race. It is a given that there have been misfires in the dispensation of justice prior to and in the wake of the Furman decision. To cite an example, in McMillan v State, 616 So. 2d 933, McMillan, who was an African American, was set up and sentenced to death after being convicted for the killing of a “white” woman anchored on lies that were created by the police.
Here, it was clearly evident that the race of MacMillan and his history of going out with women of the opposite race, as well as the race of the victim all contributed to the jury easily convicting him of the crime. However, research studies have shown that “white” and African American suspects who are “factually innocent” are equally at risk of being convicted and sentenced to death. In opposition to the “factual-innocence” concern, the interest on the impact of racial bias in the dispensation of the death penalty of defendants in similarly placed situations that are guilty in fact of murder.
The basic ethical burden is parity, impartially testing the merits of cases regardless of irrelevant factors such as race, and none more so in cases with potentially deadly consequences. States have a serious responsibility to deal with suspects equitably by way of guarding their welfare and concern; it is also the unbending duty of government to treat all defendants equitably without considering prior criminal records. With the dark memories of slavery and racial bias in America’s history, this burden has a distinct force with respect to bias owing to the suspect’s race, one factor that the defendant has not material control over (Baldus, Woodworth, Zuckerman, Weiner, Broffitt 1651).
The historical relationship between the death penalty and racism has been a tale of rebuttal as well as of evasion by the state and Federal court systems as well as by state and national legislature. The American civil rights initiatives, which have rarely discussed the collective criminal justice system in the country, nearly bypassed the basic discretionary rulings of the US capital sentencing mechanism. Given the crucial nature of the death penalty as an icon in American life and the anticipated threats to political figures unsympathetic to the operation of capital punishment, this statement comes as no surprise.
However, for a country that has emblazoned “equal justice” proudly in its history, the story is an utter disaster (Baldus, Woodworth, Zuckerman, Weiner, Broffitt 1738). In the position that attitudes towards the death penalty will be unchanging, this holding seems to hold better for “whites” compared to African Americans. A number of this sector is willing to reexamine their support for the harsh punitive sanctions to be used in the fight against criminality if the basis of the sentencing is the color of the person’s skin (Peffley, Hurwitz 1006).
American Civil Liberties Union, “Race and the death penalty” <https://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/race-and-death-penalty
Baldus, David C., Woodworth, George, Zuckerman, David, Weiner, Neil Alan, Broffitt Barbara, “Racial discrimination and the death penalty in the post-Furman era: an empirical and legal overview, with recent findings from Philadelphia,” Cornell Law Review 83 (1998).
Peffley, Mark, Hurwitz, Jon, “Persuasion and resistance: race and the death penalty,” American Journal of Political Science 51.4 (2007) pp. 996-1012
Scheidegger, Kent, “Rebutting the myths about race and the death penalty.” Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 10. 1 (2012). pp. 147-165
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