Leigh Buchanan Bienen: Works

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Title: Of Race, Crime and Punishment
: Leigh Bienen
Publisher: The New York Times
Issue: June 21, 1987
Description: THE United States Supreme Court has declared that it is unpersuaded by statistical evidence indicating that the capital-case processing system in Georgia may be significantly affected by race, in particular by whether or not the victim is white.

What part of the statistical study did the five justices who signed the majority opinion in McCleskey v. Kemp, decided on April 22, find unpersuasive? That a certain class of defendants whose victims are white are 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than the same defendant with the same crime if the same victim were not white.

The study found that a defendant was four times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim was white, after controlling for numerous other variables, including strength of the evidence and the presence of statutory aggravating and mitigating factors.

This kind of evidence should not have been surprising to our highest court. Nor are these results peculiar to Georgia.

There have now been a number of studies finding a race-of-victim effect in capital-case processing. Independent researchers first studied capital cases in Florida, Georgia and Texas, the states that re-enacted the death penalty early and had the largest numbers of people on Death Row.

The results were not inconsistent. The race of the victim persistently appears as a significant finding.

Later researchers looked at sentencing patterns in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia. Different states, different stages of the criminal process and a wide variety of methods. But neither singly nor together do these studies describe systems that are neutral with regard to race…




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