Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides

41 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2018  

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Amanda Geller

NYU Department of Sociology

Date Written: July 12, 2018

Abstract

Racial disparities in capital punishment have been well documented for decades. Over 50 studies have shown that Black defendants more likely than their white counterparts to be charged with capital-eligible crimes, to be convicted and sentenced to death. Racial disparities in charging and sentencing in capital-eligible homicides are the largest for the small number of cases where black defendants murder white victims compared to within-race killings, or where whites murder black or other ethnic minority victims. These patterns are robust to rich controls for non-racial characteristics and state sentencing guidelines. This article backs up the research on racial disparities to an earlier stage of capital case processing: the production of capital-eligible cases beginning with the identification of potential defendants by the police. It seeks to trace these sentencing disparities to examining earlier stages in the processing of homicides. Using data from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, we examine every homicide reported between 1976 and 2009, and find that homicides with white victims are significantly more likely to be “cleared” by the arrest of a suspect than are homicides with minority victims. We estimate a series of hierarchical regressions to show that a substantial portion of this disparity is explained by social and demographic characteristics of the county in which homicides take place. Most notably, counties with large concentrations of minority residents have lower clearance rates than do predominantly white counties; however, county characteristics do not fully explain the observed race-of-victim disparities. Our findings raise equal protection concerns, paving the way for further research into the production of capital homicides and the administration of the death penalty.

Keywords: police, race, death penalty

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Fagan, Jeffrey and Geller, Amanda, Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides (July 12, 2018). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-593. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3202470

Jeffrey Fagan (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Jeffrey_Fagan

Amanda Geller

NYU Department of Sociology ( email )

295 Lafayette St.
4th Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States
212-992-8762 (Phone)

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