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Capital Punishment - Racial Bias

death african row percent

One persuasive argument against the death penalty is that its is racially biased. According to the U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 42 percent of the death row population in the nation were African American in 1997. Yet less than 15 percent of the general population of the United States was African American. Until the latter half of the 1970s, most death row inmates were African American. Aside from the minority affiliation of the executed was the even more striking minority affiliation of the victims whose assailants were sentenced to death. Between 1977 and 1995, whites accounted for over 80 percent of the murder victims of death row inmates. It appeared that lesser sentences were assessed for the killing of African Americans. The Court, examining the racial disparity issue in McCleskey v. Kemp (1987) ruled that a racially disproportionate executions did not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of equal protection if the disparities were not resulting from intentional discrimination against a particular defendant, or did not demonstrate "irrationality, arbitrariness, and capriciousness."

Opponents also charged the death penalty is discriminatory because it is imposed far more often on the poor and uneducated than on wealthy or well-educated Americans. Court-appointed lawyers for indigents are often over-worked and have little experience in capital cases. Also, court-appointed lawyers are usually only involved in the trial and first round of appeals. After that, inmates are frequently hard-pressed to find an attorney to handle their case on a volunteer basis.

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