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A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing

Author

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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alberto F. Alesina & Eliana La Ferrara, 2011. "A Test of Racial Bias in Capital Sentencing," NBER Working Papers 16981, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16981
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    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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    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. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Dougherty, Shaun & Goodman, Joshua & Hill, Darryl & Litke, Erica & Page, Lindsay C., 2015. "Early Math Coursework and College Readiness: Evidence from Targeted Middle School Math Acceleration," Working Paper Series rwp15-044, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    5. repec:eee:jbfina:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:380-396 is not listed on IDEAS

    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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