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A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing

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  • Alesina, Alberto Francesco
  • La Ferrara, Eliana

Abstract

We collect a new dataset on capital punishment in the United States 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 defendant’s race the error rate should be independent of the victim’s 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

  • Alesina, Alberto Francesco & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2014. "A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing," Scholarly Articles 30752840, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:30752840
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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