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The death sentence has been studied by different scholars in relation to the disparities that occur in relation to gender or race of the offender and victim. Disparities in sentencing exist on a racial basis despite the need for the law to be impartial and equitable. Since the early times of colonial settlement, the death penalty has been used as a form of punishment although its use is debatable. Some states have skewed death sentence levels showing extremely high levels while others have relatively low levels of death sentences. Court cases have been brought forward opposing the legality of the death sentence as a form of punishment. In 1972, the US Supreme Court in Furman Vs Georgia ruled that the death sentence was a violation of the eighth amendment. It ruled that how the sentence was administered at the time was capricious and arbitrary (Greenle & Grenle, 2008). 120 cases before the court and other 645 cases were vacated. The battles in relation to the legality of the death sentence continued with the court ruling that the sentence was constitutional in Greg Vs Georgia. This ruling was conditional on the state putting adequate safeguards in place to guide discretion in sentencing. This ruling caused the debate to resurface with further research being conducted on the death sentence to determine the ineffectiveness of the sentence in deterring crime. Some of the death row inmates were proven innocent with other research focusing on the racial bias in according the death sentence.
The research questions to be answered from conducting the research will focus on the presence of racial disparities in the death sentence. Therefore, the question asked in the research study is, does the ethnicity of the offender and the victim influence capital punishment sentencing? The expected results from the study are that there is racial disparity in sentencing. African-American offenders are more likely to be accorded the death sentence if found guilty of murder. The rate of sentencing is also influenced by the differences in social class of the offender and the victim.
These expected results are supported by previous research conducted by Philips (2009) on the effect of social status on the decision to impose the death sentence. The study utilized Blacks concept of social status in determining the social characteristics of the defendants and the victims. This study utilized the five elements of social status. The control variables in the study were race, gender, form of legal counsel, and previous convictions. The results of the study showed that high status victims resulted in a higher likelihood of the defendant getting the death penalty (Philips, 2009).
The other evidence of racial disparity in the death sentence can be found in the Maryland cases analyzed by Paternoster and Brame (2008). The focus of the study is murder cases involving a white victim and an African-American defendant. The study utilizes propensity scores in analyzing legal decisions. The different studies analyzed by researchers in this case are used to determine the impact of ethnicity on legal decisions. The study used 6000 cases of first and second-degree murder committed in Maryland. The study found significant proof of higher likelihood of getting the death penalty in cases involving an African-American defendant and a white victim in comparison to other defendant-victim combinations.
The study utilizes secondary data collected from the death penalty information center. The data will be analyzed in terms of the different defendant- victim combinations in order to note any variations. The data is both quantitative and qualitative and will be analyzed from the different perspectives in order to make the required conclusions. Analysis of the data will be conducted in the form of descriptive analysis through proportions and percentages. The different victim-defendant combinations will be analyzed separately in order to draw the required conclusions on the correlation between executions and the race of the defendant and the victim. Race, age, and the county were also used as key variables for the study.
The population used for the study is the total number of inmates executed in the state of Oklahoma between the year 2000 and 2003. The search was narrowed down to the state of Oklahoma because of the relatively high murder rate and the number of current death row inmates. The number of executions is then disaggregated in terms of the race of the defendant and the victim.
The independent variables in the study include the race of the defendant and the victim. The Age of the defendant was also used as an independent variable. Race of the defendant is a nominal variable because it cannot be measured in subjective units. Age of the defendant is an interval variable with the higher levels depicting increase in the age. The dependent variable in the case is the execution of the defendant. However, since the population used consists of only executed defendants, the focus will be on the characteristics, which are the independent variables.
Analysis of the data is in the form of proportion and percentages in order to obtain descriptive statistics about the data. These descriptive characteristics of the data will be used for making inferences about the study topic in order to answer the research questions. The mean and median age will be calculated, and the modal gender will be determined in order to gain adequate knowledge about the population used for the study.
Significance of the Study
The study is significant because it sets out to test some common hypotheses about the criminal justice system in relation to the death penalty. It will provide insight into the operation of the criminal justice system and aid in the analysis of concepts such as Black’s theory of law.
The total number of defendants executed in Oklahoma from 2000 to 2003 was 50 consisting of 47 males and 3 females. In relation to the races of the defendants, 29 of them were white, 15 were black, while 4 of them were Native Americans. Only six of the executions involved a black defendant and white victims. Other combinations such as white defendant black victim did not have any executions. Black victim-black defendant combination resulted in 10 executions while white victim-white defendant combination resulted in 28 executions. The number of death row inmates in Oklahoma was 257 between 1977 and 1999. The number of murders with known offenders was 5020 for the period between 1976 and 1998. Other factors that are considered for the study involve the age of the defendant and the number of victims. Some of the defendants involved in the study were guilty of multiple murders. 12 of them having murdered more than one victim while the others had murdered only one victim. Only one out of the 50 defendants was juvenile (DPIC, 2012).
The analysis of executions in the state of Oklahoma shows that the likelihood of getting the death conviction is related to the combination of the defendant and the victim. The number of convictions involving black defendants was 16 with 6 of them involving a white victim while 10 involved a black victim. The convictions of white defendants only involved white victims with no white victims being executed for the murder of black victims. The large number for white defendants in the period under review reflects the composition of criminal justice system in the state. However, the lack of white defendants convicted for the murder of black victims is rather odd given the large number of murders in the state.
The main weakness of the research is the inability of the research to examine the decisions made when the offender is charged or convicted. Another weakness of the study is the measures used in determining the social status of the offender and the victim. The measures are incomplete because they fail to capture some of the significant aspects of social status influencing the decision to impose the death sentence. The research also has a limitation in the consideration of legal aspects of the case in the decision (Phillips, 2009). Some factors such as the strength of evidence have not been analyzed in the study; thus, it may present some factor that is not included in the analysis.
Race is treated as a contributory factor in the decisions and can be manipulated. He variables of the study are, therefore, difficult to control in order to study and answer counterfactual questions. Another significant limitation is the obscurity in comparing cases involving dissimilar combinations of the victim and the defendant. Comparability of the different combinations in cases is questionable because of the variation in characteristics of the case. Another limitation is the lack of full background information on the cases. Some aspects of the case such as the weapon used and heinousness of the murder are crucial in the decision made by the court (Paternoster & Brame, 2008). The failure to include these factors in the analysis may result incomplete conclusions being derived from the study. This weakness limits the value of the conclusions made from the data.