A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing
Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara
NBER Working Paper, April 2011
Abstract: This paper proposes a test of racial bias in capital sentencing based upon patterns of judicial errors in lower courts. We model the behavior of the trial court as minimizing a weighted sum of the probability of sentencing an innocent and that of letting a guilty defendant free. We define racial bias as a situation where the relative weight on the two types of errors is a function of defendant and/or victim race. The key prediction of the model is that if the court is unbiased, ex post the error rate should be independent of the combination of defendant and victim race. We test this prediction using an original dataset that contains the race of the defendant and of the victim(s) for all capital appeals that became final between 1973 and 1995. We find robust evidence of bias against minority defendants who killed white victims: In Direct Appeal and Habeas Corpus the probability of error in these cases is 3 and 9 percentage points higher, respectively, than for minority defendants who killed minority victims.
My own view: Capital Punishment should be abolished immediately
1. It's barbaric (I won't insult you with a link. It's obvious that the state should not have the power to murder a helpless unarmed person entirely in its power. If you come to my house and break in, I will shoot you, multiple times, with a large caliber weapon. But that's self-defense. Capital punishment is obviously murder).
2. It's racially biased. We mostly kill black people. (See above, or just read the damned newspaper in Texas)
3. It's economically biased. If you can afford a real attorney, you'll get life in prison. And public defenders simply cannot possibly give a real defense.
4. It's more expensive. Cheaper to pay for lifetime incarceration than to pay for all the appeals after the fact. We provide little for actual trial expenses, but then pay millions for appeals after the trial has been botched.
(nod to Kevin Lewis)