Discrimination, Death and Denial: The Tolerance of Racial Discrimination in Infliction of the Death Penalty
52 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2016
Date Written: 1995
The death penalty was declared unconstitutional in 1972 due to arbitrariness and discrimination against racial minorities and the poor. New capital punishment laws, supposedly designed to prevent arbitrariness and discrimination, were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976. But race and poverty continue to determine who dies. The poor are frequently represented by inept court-appointed lawyers, who often fail to protect the rights of their clients and fail to provide juries with critical information needed for the sentencing decision, leaving the accused virtually defenseless. Prosecutors are given wide discretion in deciding whether to seek the death penalty and juries are given great discretion in deciding whether to impose it. This discretion provides ample room for racial prejudice to influence whether the accused lives or dies.
This article examines the historic relationship between racial violence and the death penalty, describes some of the ways in which racial prejudice continues to influence capital sentencing decisions, and discusses the failure of the courts to confront the racial bias that infects the criminal justice system.
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