The article “Prosecutorial Discretion in Requesting the Death Penalty: A Case of Victim-Based Racial Discrimination” purports to show that the race of a criminal’s victim is a significant factor when prosecutors request the death penalty in a murder case. This was done to determine if there was racial bias in regards to death penalty sentencing.
Data: data for the article was collected from Supplemental Homicide Reports from a pool of 1,800 homicide events that occurred in the state of South Carolina between the years 1977 and 1981. Supplemental Homicide Reports are created by every law enforcement agency in the state and contain demographic information about the perpetrators and victims.
Independent variable: race.
Dependent variable: death penalty requests.
Control variables: type of offense (homicide).
In cases where an African-American person killed a white victim, the prosecution was significantly more likely to ask for the death penalty compared to African-Americans killing other African-Americans.
African-Americans who killed African-Americans would typically only get a death penalty request if the murder crossed a “crossed a threshold of aggravation”: i.e. it was significantly more violent or gruesome than the norm.
Even after testing to remove other significant legal factors from the equation, the researchers found that prosecutors were still significantly more likely to ask for the death penalty if the victim in question was white.
Relevance of Article (Paternoster, 1984) to the Study of Court Processing
The relevance of this article to court proceedings is that it shows a clear racial bias in prosecutors with regards to death penalty requests. Those who work in the fields of law and justice must be aware of these biases in order to actively combat them, as they have real effects when it comes to the meting out of punishments in the courtroom.