The Effect of Race, Gender, and Location on Prosecutorial Decision to Seek the Death Penalty in South Carolina
51 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2006 Last revised: 16 Jul 2011
Date Written: July 15, 2011
This article contributes to the death penalty debate by analyzing the decision of state prosecutors to seek the death penalty in South Carolina from 1993 to 1997. Our central focus is on the potential impact of non-legal cues such as race, gender, and location of the crime in shaping prosecutorial choices. Because prosecutors are elected in South Carolina, we control for the political context of prosecutorial decisions. The empirical analysis indicates that contrary to normative expectations and numerous legal guidelines that have been established to channel the decisions of state officials, the administration of capital punishment remains an imperfect embodiment of the promise of governmental power. Beyond legally mandated statutory aggravating factors, prosecutorial decisions to seek the death penalty in South Carolina are strongly conditioned by the race of the victim, gender, and the rural versus urban location of the crime. In addition, we find that political context matters in the decisions of state prosecutors to go for death. The findings challenge the legitimacy of the process of determining which accused offender should face the death penalty and which should not.
Keywords: Death Penalty, Capital Punishment, Prosecutor, District attorney; Prosecutorial Decision Making, Empirical Analysis; South Carolina
JEL Classification: J7, K4, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation