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Study Finds Racial Bias in Louisiana’s Death Penalty

Study Finds Racial Bias in Louisiana’s Death Penalty from @eji_org
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The findings are consistent with prior studies by the study authors and other established researchers that show “a strong and persistent pattern of disparities” in Louisiana’s death penalty and demonstrate that these disparities are strongly correlated with the victim’s race and gender, the authors wrote.

The race of the victim played a particularly salient role in outcomes. Having a white victim doubled the probability of a death sentence for a white suspect, the study found. Black suspects in cases with white victims were 8.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those suspected of killing a Black victim.

But while both Black and white defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death when the victim was white than when the victim was Black, cases with white victims and Black defendants were almost three times more likely than cases with white victims and white defendants to end with a death sentence.

The new study also examined the impact of race at earlier stages of capital prosecutions, starting with initial charges. It found that “the decision to bring capital charges, even if they are later reduced or dropped, is subject to strong disparities based on racial factors.”

Indeed, cases with Black suspects and white victims were 2.4 times more likely to have charges of first-degree murder than cases with Black suspects and Black victims, and were twice as likely to have a charge of first-degree murder as cases with white suspects and white victims.

From initial charges stage to the final charging decision made before trial starts or before a plea agreement is accepted, the study found that homicides with Black suspects and Black victims have about a 10% chance of proceeding to final capital charges. But that chance increases to 40% in cases where a Black male is accused of killing a white female victim, even when other variables are held constant.

Overall, crimes with white victims have much higher rates of final capital charging than crime with Black victims, the researchers found.

“These effects clearly demonstrate the power of race and gender in driving prosecutorial decisions to seek death at the final stages of a capital prosecution and of sentencers to impose it,” the authors concluded. “[T]his powerful racial disparity must be seen as a consistent feature of Louisiana’s use of capital charges and the death penalty.”

The data make clear that Louisiana’s death penalty is not applied in a racially neutral manner, the study concluded. Instead, the state’s death penalty system targets crimes with white female victims for the harshest punishment and treats those with Black male victims the lightest.

Originally posted by EJI on 2022-06-15 11:38:09

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