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

Michael J. Songer

Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Isaac Unah

Political Science, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill

Date Written: July 15, 2011

Abstract

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

Songer, Michael J. and Unah, Isaac, The Effect of Race, Gender, and Location on Prosecutorial Decision to Seek the Death Penalty in South Carolina (July 15, 2011). South Carolina Law Review, Vol. 58, p. 16, November 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=922533

Michael J. Songer

Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ( email )

231 West Lafayette Blvd
Detriot, MI 48226

Isaac Unah (Contact Author)

Political Science, University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill ( email )

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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