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Death penalty, Death row populations, Racial disparities, Capital punishment


Applied Statistics | Criminal Law | Law and Society


Twenty-three years of murder and death sentence data show how murder demographics help explain death row populations. Nevada and Oklahoma are the most death-prone states; Texas's death sentence rate is below the national mean. Accounting for the race of murderers establishes that black representation on death row is lower than black representation in the population of murder offenders. This disproportion results from reluctance to seek or impose death in black defendant-black victim cases, which more than offsets eagerness to seek and impose death in black defendant-white victim cases. Death sentence rates in black defendant-white victim cases far exceed those in either black defendant-black victim cases or white defendant-white victim cases. The disproportion survives because there are many more black defendant-black victim murders, which are underrepresented on death row, than there are black defendant-white victim murders, which are overrepresented on death row.

Publication Citation

Published in: Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (March 2004).