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Race and Gender Disparities in Capitally-Charged Louisiana Homicide Cases, 1976-2014 

Published onAug 14, 2022
Race and Gender Disparities in Capitally-Charged Louisiana Homicide Cases, 1976-2014 
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Race and Gender Disparities in Capitally-Charged Louisiana Homicide Cases, 1976-2014
Description

Out of 6,512 homicides from 1976 through 2014, we review the outcomes of 1,822 capitallycharged homicide cases across eight judicial districts in Louisiana. In most cases, capital charges were reduced; but in 385 cases, the state sought death to the final stage of the prosecution. In 107 cases, a death sentence was imposed. We analyze these outcomes, looking at legally relevant factors, as well as legally irrelevant ones, in determining final capital charges and death sentences. Legally relevant factors include the number of victims as well as various statutory aggravating circumstances (e.g., victims under 12 or over 64, simultaneous felony circumstances, the type of weapon, the relationship between the victim and offender). Legally irrelevant factors include the judicial district and the race and gender of the offenders and victims, respectively. Many legally relevant factors have powerful impacts: the number of victims, certain felony circumstances, child victims, elderly victims are all associated with higher rates of final capital charging or death sentencing. But we also show that factors which appear legally irrelevant in theory have have powerful effects; rates of capital prosecution and death sentencing are substantially different based on the race of victim and the combined races of the offenders and the victims, for example. We found only modest differences across the eight judicial districts we studied, but especially significant differences in rates of final capital charges and death sentences in cases that involved white victims, particularly white females. No demographic combination was as likely to see a final capital charge or a death sentence as those cases with a black male offender and a white female victim, which were more than five times as likely to lead to a final capital charge or a death sentence, compared to the much more frequent crimes involving black offenders and black victims. These findings come after a review of the bivariate relations as well as a series of multivariate logistic regressions. The Louisiana death penalty system is heavily weighted by a tendency to seek the harshest penalties in those cases with white female victims. Our powerful and consistent findings of racial and gender-based disparities hold in a multivariate analysis and are inconsistent with the equal protection of the law or any common understanding of equality or justice.

 

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