Death Penalty Sentencing:

Research Indicates Pattern of Racial Disparities

T-GGD-90-37: Published: May 3, 1990. Publicly Released: May 3, 1990.

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GAO discussed studies of capital sentencing procedures to determine whether the race of either the victim or the defendant influenced the likelihood that defendants would be sentenced to death. GAO noted that: (1) about half of the studies were of high or medium quality; (2) its synthesis of the studies showed a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in capital sentencing; (3) such influential and legally relevant variables as aggravating circumstances did not fully explain the racial disparities; (4) 82 percent of the studies found that the victim's race influenced the likelihood of the defendant being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty; (5) the extent to which the defendant's race influenced the likelihood of capital sentencing was unclear; (6) although the race of the victim influenced all stages of the judicial process, it was more evident in earlier stages of the judicial process; and (7) more than three-fourths of the studies found that judges were more likely to sentence black defendants to death.

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