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A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing

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  • Alberto F. Alesina
  • Eliana La Ferrara

Abstract

We propose a test of bias based upon patterns of judicial errors. We model the trial court as minimizing a weighted sum of type I and II errors. We define racial bias a situation where the weight depends on defendant/victim race. If the court is unbiased, the error rate should be independent of the combination defendant/victim race. We test this prediction using an original dataset on all capital appeals in 1973-1995. We find that in the first and last stage of appeal the probability of error is 3 and 9 percentage points higher for minority defendants who killed white (vs. minority) victims.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16981.

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Date of creation: Apr 2011
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Publication status: published as “A Test for Racial Bias in Capital Punishment,” American Economic Review, Forthcoming 2014 (with Eliana La Ferrara).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16981

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  1. John J. Donohue III & Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," NBER Working Papers 11982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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