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A test of racial bias in capital sentencing

Author: Alberto Alesina; Eliana La Ferrara; National Bureau of Economic Research.
Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : National Bureau of Economic Research, ©2011.
Series: Working paper series (National Bureau of Economic Research), no. 16981.
Edition/Format:   eBook : Document : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
This paper proposes a test of racial bias in capital sentencing based upon patterns of judicial errors in lower courts. We model the behavior of the trial court as minimizing a weighted sum of the probability of sentencing an innocent and that of letting a guilty defendant free. We define racial bias as a situation where the relative weight on the two types of errors is a function of defendant and/or victim race.  Read more...
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Additional Physical Format: Print version:
Alesina, Alberto.
Test of racial bias in capital sentencing.
Cambridge, Mass. : National Bureau of Economic Research, ©2011
(DLC) 2011657197
Material Type: Document, Internet resource
Document Type: Internet Resource, Computer File
All Authors / Contributors: Alberto Alesina; Eliana La Ferrara; National Bureau of Economic Research.
OCLC Number: 719369365
Description: 1 online resource (37 pages) : illustrations.
Series Title: Working paper series (National Bureau of Economic Research), no. 16981.
Responsibility: Alberto F. Alesina, Eliana La Ferrara.

Abstract:

This paper proposes a test of racial bias in capital sentencing based upon patterns of judicial errors in lower courts. We model the behavior of the trial court as minimizing a weighted sum of the probability of sentencing an innocent and that of letting a guilty defendant free. We define racial bias as a situation where the relative weight on the two types of errors is a function of defendant and/or victim race. The key prediction of the model is that if the court is unbiased, ex post the error rate should be independent of the combination of defendant and victim race. We test this prediction using an original dataset that contains the race of the defendant and of the victim(s) for all capital appeals that became final between 1973 and 1995. We find robust evidence of bias against minority defendants who killed white victims: In Direct Appeal and Habeas Corpus the probability of error in these cases is 3 and 9 percentage points higher, respectively, than for minority defendants who killed minority victims.

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