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A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing

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  • Alberto Alesina
  • Eliana La Ferrara

Abstract

We collect a new dataset on capital punishment in the US and we propose a test of racial bias based upon patterns of sentence reversals. We model the courts as minimizing type I and II errors. If trial courts were unbiased, conditional on defendants race the error rate should be independent of the victims race. Instead we uncover 3 and 9 percentage points higher reversal rates in Direct Appeal and Habeas Corpus cases, respectively, against minority defendants who killed whites. The pattern for white defendants is opposite but not statistically significant. This bias is confined to Southern States.

Suggested Citation

  • Alberto Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2014. "A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(11), pages 3397-3433, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:104:y:2014:i:11:p:3397-3433
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.104.11.3397
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Donohue, John J & Wolfers, Justin, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," CEPR Discussion Papers 5493, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Kate Antonovics & Brian G. Knight, 2009. "A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 163-177, February.
    3. Shamena Anwar & Hanming Fang, 2006. "An Alternative Test of Racial Prejudice in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 127-151, March.
    4. Laura M. Argys & H. Naci Mocan, 2004. "Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? An Analysis of Prisoners on Death Row in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 255-282, June.
    5. Grossman, Gene M & Katz, Michael L, 1983. "Plea Bargaining and Social Welfare," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(4), pages 749-757, September.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Shamena Anwar & Hanming Fang, 2015. "Testing for Racial Prejudice in the Parole Board Release Process: Theory and Evidence," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 1-37.
    2. Joshua Goodman & Dougherty, Shaun & Darryl Hill & Erica Litke & Lindsay Page, 2015. "Early Math Coursework and College Readiness: Evidence from Targeted Middle School Math Acceleration," Working Paper 283481, Harvard University OpenScholar.
    3. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:58:y:2017:i:c:p:141-161 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:eee:jbfina:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:380-396 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Wayne Geerling & Gary Magee & Vinod Mishra & Russell Smyth, 2016. "Hitler's Judges: Ideological Commitment and the Death Penalty in Nazi Germany," Monash Economics Working Papers 10-16, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    6. repec:eee:jeborg:v:150:y:2018:i:c:p:1-18 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Dougherty, Shaun M. & Goodman, Joshua S. & Hill, Darryl V. & Litke, Erica G. & Page, Lindsay C., 2017. "Objective course placement and college readiness: Evidence from targeted middle school math acceleration," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 141-161.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • K41 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Litigation Process
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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