RAND Study Finds No Evidence of Racial Bias in Federal Prosecutors' Decisions to Seek Death Penalty from 1995-2000
Jul 17, 2006
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This study examined the relationship between the federal government’s decision to seek the death penalty in a case and that case’s characteristics, including the defendant’s and victim’s races. This research began by identifying the types of data that would be appropriate and feasible to gather. Next, case characteristics were abstracted from Department of Justice Capital Case Unit (CCU) files. Defendant- and victim-race data were obtained from electronic files. Finally, three independent teams used these data to investigate whether charging decisions were related to defendant or victim race. The teams also examined whether these decisions were related to case characteristics and geographic area. There are large race effects in the raw data that are of concern. However, all three teams found that controlling for nonracial case characteristics eliminated these effects, and that these characteristics could predict the seek decision with 85 to 90 percent accuracy. These findings support the view that decisions to seek the death penalty were driven by heinousness of crimes rather than by race. Nevertheless, these findings are not definitive because of the difficulties in determining causation from statistical modeling of observational data.
Introduction and Background
Data Collection Methods
Description of Data on Key Variables
A Statistical Analysis of Charging Decisions in Death-Eligible Federal Cases: 1995–2000
Chapter Four Technical Notes
Supporting Data for Klein, Freedman, and Bolus
Race and the Federal Death Penalty
Chapter Five Technical Notes
The Predictors Used
Charging Decisions in Death-Eligible Federal Cases (1995–2000): Arbitrariness, Capriciousness, and Regional Variation
Chapter Six Technical Notes
Differences Among Defendants
Summary of Findings and Conclusions
About the Authors
Two Advisory Committees
Coding Forms and Rules
Case Summary Form
The research described in this report was supported by a grant awarded to the RAND Corporation by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice. The research was conducted under the auspices of the Safety and Justice Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE).
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