• Response: Expanding the Record

    Catherine Grosso, Barbara O\'Brien
    MSU Law Faculty Repository
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    Scott Phillips and Justin Marceau add a new layer to our understanding of the role of race in the administration of capital punishment. In so doing, they join a very small but hopefully expanding body of literature that is shifting our focus to the act of execution itself.' Indeed, the body of complex studies of the administration of capital punishment stops short of examining decisions about whom the state actually kills with its myriad antecedent decisions. 2 Lifting the veil and sharpening our focus on this final act, alone, makes an important contribution to the literature. But Phillips and Marceau do more than that. They add a layer of evidence to the well-established body of research showing the influence of race on capital punishment.3 In particular, studies across a wide range of jurisdictions have consistently shown that death-eligible defendants convicted of killing at least one white victim are more likely to be charged capitally and ultimately sentenced to death.4 Most simply stated, Phillips and Marceau report that Georgia executed 2.26% (22 out of 972) of all defendants indicted for murder involving at least one white victim compared to 0.13% (2 out of 1,503) of all other defendants between 1973 and 1979.5 This represents a ratio of seventeen-to-one. This mirrors and expands the disparities Baldus and Woodworth reported for unadjusted race-of-victim disparities among all murder and voluntary manslaughter cases. Baldus and Woodworth found that 11% (106 out of 981) of all defendants indicted for murder of at least one white victim received a death sentence, compared to 1 % (20 out of 1,503) of all other death-eligible defendants.6 This represented a ratio of eleven-to-one. The introduction of controls did not meaningfully diminish the disparity in either case.
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    9 months ago
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