Death Penalty Discrimination

     "Twenty years have past since this court declared that the death penalty
must be imposed fairly, and with reasonable consistency, or not at all, and,
despite the effort of the states and courts to devise legal formulas and
procedural rules to meet this daunting challenge, the death penalty remains
fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake." --Justice

Harry Blackmun, Feb. 22, 1994. Capital punishment is one of the most debatable
subjects, in American society. Proponents of the death penalty believe it is
justice--retribution for the crimes committed. The reason underlining Americans'
overwhelming support of executions is usually revenge. We believe that most
serious crimes deserve the most serious punishment, as we recall the statement
from the Old Testament, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,"
principle. When we hear about a murderer, rarely do we want to understand what
drove him to murder; more often, we wish to kill him. It is difficult to
understand that the vengefulness we feel toward a murderer, which drives us to
champion execution, is identical to the wish for revenge the murderer feels for
what he believes to be the horrendous injustices in his life. Our desire to tame
the heart of the murderer is quite limited. We feel as murderous toward them as
they do toward those they have killed. We wish either to kill or torture them.

This makes a murderer, if he is imprisoned, even more murderous. Just as the
murderer's murder accomplishes nothing, so too the death penalty has not in any
way decreased murder. The judicial system was created in hopes of providing
justice for all people. Although movements such as Civil Rights and Black Power
have taken place to ensure justice for all, discrimination still exists in our
judicial system. Capital Punishment is applied in an unfair, arbitrary and
discriminatory manner. As long as it remains a part of our penal system, it will
be used disproportionately against the poor, racial minorities, and those who
had received inadequate legal representation. The following essay will cover how
racism is applied in the death penalty; the means of discretion that the judges
and jury use; and how the poor are discriminated against due to their lack of
proper council. "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes,
race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall
die." --Justice Harry Blackmun Throughout American history, the death
penalty has fallen disproportionately on racial minorities. From 1930, the first
year for which statistics are readily available from the Bureau of Justice

Statistics, to 1967, 3,859 persons were executed under civil jurisdiction in the

United States. During this period of nearly half a century, over half (54%) of
those executed were black, 45 percent were white, and the remaining one percent
were members of other racial groups (see fig. 1). Between 1930 and 1976 nearly

90% of those executed for the crime of rape in this country were

African-Americans . Between 1930 and 1996, 4220 prisoners were executed in the

U.S.; more than half (53%) were black . Currently, about 50% of those on the
nations death rows are from minority populations representing 20% of the
country's population. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned existing death
penalty statutes in part because of the danger that those being selected to die
were chosen out of racial prejudice. Legislatures adopted the death sentencing
procedures that were supposed to eliminate the influence of race from the death
sentencing process. That was one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court ruled
the death penalty unconstitutional in Furman. However, evidence of racial
discrimination in the application of capital punishment continues. Nearly 40% of
those executed since 1976 have been black, although blacks constitute only 12%
of the population. And in almost every death penalty case, the race of the
victims is white (see fig. 2). Last year alone, 89% of the death sentences
carried out involved white victims, even though 50% of the homicides in America
have been black victims . Of all the executions that have occurred since the
death penalty was reinstated in 1976, only one has involved a white defendant
for the murder of a black person. Racial minorities are being prosecuted under
federal death penalty laws far beyond their proportion in the general population
and the population of the criminal offenders. Race of the victim was found to
influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the
death penalty. For example, those who murdered whites were found more likely to
be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks were. According to the
survey findings, 54% believed that blacks are more likely than whites to receive
the death penalty for the same crime. This record of racial injustice played a
significant part in Justice Harry Blackmun's recent decision to oppose the death
penalty in every case. "Even under the most sophisticated death penalty
statutes," said Blackmun, "race continues to play a major role in
determining who shall live and who shall die." Race continues to plague the
application of the death penalty in the United States. On the state level,
racial disparities are most obvious in the predominant selection of cases
involving white victims. On the federal level, cases selected have almost
exclusively involved minority defendants. Under our system, the federal
government has long assumed the role of protecting against racially biased
application of the law. But under the only active federal death penalty statute,
the federal record of racial disparity has been even worse than that of the
states. So far, the number of cases is relatively small compared to state
capital prosecutions. However, the numbers are increasing, and under legislation
currently being considered in Congress, the federal government would play a much
wider role in death penalty prosecutions. "Whatever else might be said for
the use of death as a punishment, one lesson is clear from experience; this is a
power that we cannot exercise fairly and without discrimination." --Gross
and Mauro Discrimination against the poor (and in our society, racial minorities
are disproportionately poor) is also well established. Fairness in capital cases
requires, above all, competent counsel for the defendant. Yet,
"approximately ninety percent of those on death row could not afford to
hire a lawyer when they were tried." Common characteristics of these
defendants are poverty, that lack of firm social roots in the community and
inadequate legal representation at trial or on appeal. A survey conducted on the
public opinions regarding the death penalty showed that 70% believed that poor
people have a higher chance of being executed than rich people do, because they
did not receive proper legal representation. The poor and mentally ill are in
fact, being sentenced to death row much quicker than the rich are. They are sent
to court and usually end up with a court appointed attorney, who could usually
care less about what happens in the case. Most of them also have very little
experience in capital cases anyway. Some cities are trying things so that the
court appointed attorneys have a little help by setting up public defender
offices. But there are still to many places that rely on the list of local
lawyers to draw from for their capital case attorney. It is hard to blame them
entirely though. A private attorney in Atlanta may be being paid $75 an hour,
while a court appointed lawyer will make about $30. States like Alabama make it
even worse by placing a limit on how much a court appointed lawyer can be paid
for pre-trial work, -$1000. Even if they spend 500 hours (the national average
is 2000) on pre-trail work, which amounts to $2 an hour. They would be better
off working at McDonalds. The reason this happens is so that states can reduce
already high costs. The most comprehensive study in the country found that the
death penalty costs and average of 2.16 million per execution over the costs of
non-death penalty murder case with the sentence of imprisonment for life. In

Texas, death penalty cases cost an average of 2.3 million, about three times the
cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for

40 years. Hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of court time
would be saved by replacing the death penalty with alternative sentences. The
money saved could be devoted to crime prevention measures, which really do
reduce crime and violence, and thus are the true alternatives to the death
penalty. "A majority of Americans have taken a very strong position on an
issue about which they are substantially uniformed." --R. Bohm The
discretion of judges and juries in imposing the death penalty enables the
penalty to be selectively applied. Discretion in the criminal justice system is
unavoidable. The history of capital punishment in America clearly demonstrates
the social desire to mitigate the harshness of the death penalty by narrowing
the scope of its application. Whether or not explicitly authorized by statutes,
sentencing discretion has been the main vehicle to this end. But when sentencing
discretion is used - as it to often has been - to doom the poor, the friendless,
the uneducated, racial minorities, and the despised, it becomes injustice.

Mindful of such facts, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association
(including 20 out of 24 former presidents of the ABA) called for a moratorium on
all executions by a vote of 280 to 119 in February 1997. The House judged the
current system to be "a haphazard maze of unfair practices." "If
everyone took an eye for an eye, the whole world would be blind." --Gandhi

The death penalty is one of the oldest of all punishments. Because of this, it
is rooted in old beliefs, particularly those made by whites. Capital punishment,
should by all means be abolished. It is racially biased, discriminatory, and
arbitrary. Like Skurka said, "It doesn't deter crime in any way or serve
any message to the public. It is inhumane, cruel and unusual punishment, and is
contrary to every fundamental value we have." As long as the death penalty
remains a part of our system, it will be used disproportionately against the
poor, racial minorities, and those who had received inadequate legal
representation. Society must begin to re-examine its approach to punishment. In
conclusion, the death penalty should be abolished because it has become a
horrifying lottery in which politics, and race play a more decisive role in
sending a defendant to the death chamber than the circumstances of the crime
itself. Works Cited 1. Dison, J.E., "Changing Attitudes Towards Capital

Punishment, 1972 - 1982," American Society of Criminology, 1984. 2. Drimmer,

Frederick, "Until you are Dead: The Book of Executions in America," A

Citadel Press Book, New York, NY, 1990. 3. Ellsworth, Poebe C. and Samuel R.

Gross, "Hardening of the Attitudes: Americans' Views on the Death

Penalty," Journal of social issues, Vol. 50, No. 2, 1994, p. 19-52. 4.

Radelet, Michael, Hugo Adam Bedau, and Constance E. Putnam, "In Spite of

Innocence," Northeastern University Press, Boston, MA, 1994. 5. Young, R.L,
"Religious Orientation, Race and Support for the Death Penalty,"

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 31 (Mar. 1992), Pages 76-87.

Internet Resources 1. "Capital Punishment: The Death Penalty." http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm

2. "Public Opinion About the Death Penalty." http://www.essential.org/dpic/po.html

3. "History and Recent Developments." http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/death/history.html

4. "Death Penalty Information Center." http://www.essential.org/dpic/dpic.r05.html

5. "The Case Against the Death Penalty." http://www.aclu.org/library/case_against_death.html#unfair

Magazine Resources 1. Carroll, James, "Lets Gets Real About Executions in

America: Three Easy Steps," The Atlantic Monthly, May 1994. 2. Chinni,

Dante, "Life and Death Decisions," Newsweek, June 16, 1997. 3. Monsma,

Stephen, "Capital Punishment - A Qualified Yes," The Banner, Dec. 8,

1997. 4. NA, "UN report calls for ban on executions in the U.S," The

Globe and Mail, April 4,1998. References

Bibliography

1. Dison, J.E., "Changing Attitudes Towards Capital Punishment, 1972 -

1982," American Society of Criminology, 1984. 2. Drimmer, Frederick,
"Until you are Dead: The Book of Executions in America," A Citadel

Press Book, New York, NY, 1990. 3. Ellsworth, Poebe C. and Samuel R. Gross,
"Hardening of the Attitudes: Americans' Views on the Death Penalty,"

Journal of social issues, Vol. 50, No. 2, 1994, p. 19-52. 4. Radelet, Michael,

Hugo Adam Bedau, and Constance E. Putnam, "In Spite of Innocence,"

Northeastern University Press, Boston, MA, 1994. 5. Young, R.L, "Religious

Orientation, Race and Support for the Death Penalty," Journal for the

Scientific Study of Religion, 31 (Mar. 1992), Pages 76-87. Internet Resources 1.
"Capital Punishment: The Death Penalty." http://www.religioustolerance.org/execute.htm

2. "Public Opinion About the Death Penalty." http://www.essential.org/dpic/po.html

3. "History and Recent Developments." http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/just/death/history.html

4. "Death Penalty Information Center." http://www.essential.org/dpic/dpic.r05.html

5. "The Case Against the Death Penalty." http://www.aclu.org/library/case_against_death.html#unfair

Magazine Resources 1. Carroll, James, "Lets Gets Real About Executions in

America: Three Easy Steps," The Atlantic Monthly, May 1994. 2. Chinni,

Dante, "Life and Death Decisions," Newsweek, June 16, 1997. 3. Monsma,

Stephen, "Capital Punishment - A Qualified Yes," The Banner, Dec. 8,

1997. 4. NA, "UN report calls for ban on executions in the U.S," The

Globe and Mail, April 4,1998