The capital punishment Essay

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The death penalty is a contentious subject in the United States, and the reality that Blacks are more likely than Whites to receive the death penalty for the same crimes makes the situation more challenging. African Americans are more likely to receive an execution sentence even when compared to other minorities. The use of the death penalty dates back to the time before Christ was born. Even though the New Testament says you shall not kill, the Old Testament's teaching of "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" has been followed by people for generations. In the America of today a lot of innocent people have gone through a more similar backward method of brutal and unconventional punishment. Capital punishment has taken the place of the vicious traditions of ancient time by lethal injection. The growing population of inmates in the recent decades has made the rate of the death penalty to be particularly dramatic. This paper will discuss the issues surrounding race and death penalty in the United States.

It estimated that two-thirds of people who are incarcerated are from racial and ethnic minorities and one in every eight prisoners is a black male in their twenties. Additionally, African American males of this day and age have a one in three possibilities of being incarcerated during their lifetime while White males have a one in seventeen chance (Allen, Clubb, & Lacey 2012). The effect of the war on drugs has gone ahead to aggravate these trend whereby three-fourths of all the drug dealers are African Americans which when compared to the share of drug users in our community it is far out of proportion. The skin color of an individual who has committed a crime has a constraining effect on being issued with the death penalty.

The sentencing and consequences are primarily influenced by the race of an individual as people of color are usually targets of the death penalty. It is also evident that African Americans tend to be mistreated and even killed while they are in jail. An excellent example of this mistreatment can be seen from the website Death Penalty and Race where it reveals that one-third of the death row inmates in Philadelphia are African American and if they came from a different race they would have received life in prison rather than the death penalty (Allen, Clubb, & Lacey 2012). The issue of discrimination and mistreatment of minorities, especially in the law enforcement, has for centuries been a significant problem in the United States. Young men and women from minority groups are usually targeted most especially when they come from poor backgrounds.

Discrimination in the death penalty has been a long-standing problem in the system of capital punishment. According to various research that has been conducted in the whole of the United States established that the race of an offender incorporated with the race of the victim is a silent indicator the decision making of a juror in death penalty cases. It revealed that Black defendants found guilty of committing the murder of White victims were most likely to be sentenced to death. Four factors contribute to racial bias in capital trials. The first one is the district attorney's ethnic background; the one who is following the death penalty. The second element is the racial background of the jurors in the death penalty cases.

The third aspect is lack of understanding of the tribunal instructions in the capital punishment trials by the jurors. The last contributing factor is the attitude of jurors towards the death penalty and their status of death qualification (Kamuzze, 2012). The United States has thirty-eight states that apply capital punishment as the final discipline for offenders found guillty of crimes like first-degree murder, capital sexual battery, and treason. In the Western world, America is the only nation that uses the capital punishment together with China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, combined they are accountable for ninety-four percent of the executions in the word (Allen, Clubb, & Lacey 2012).

Why the Death Penalty?

Despite this topic being devastating and complicated, it is crucial to analyze the race organization that is part of the death penalty as killing has become the last interpretation of which value is placed on individuals by our society and are considered to be dispensable. The feeling that the United States portrays through executions has in it a racist undertone when the race of the person being killed is considered but it takes on an apparent racial order when the race of the murder victim is considered. This can be backed up with the most extensive research conducted on the death penalty which found that killers of whites were eleven times most likely to be sentenced to death than African American killers (Urbina, 2012). In over 18,000 of the executions in the United States only 31 were of white individuals being punished for the murder of a Black person (Urbina, 2012). Capital punishment is the modern method of lynching as it also used to mean the sporadic acts of individual racism.

Today selective killing can be viewed as an official bureaucratized act of the state thus saying that it is a formal statement of what our government believes in. For a large number of Black individuals, it is a complete disempowerment possible death. It cannot be denied that capital punishment is a controversial issue that is extraordinary. The debate on the death penalty has a lot of problems that surround it such as diminishing public support for capital punishment, execution of the innocent, lethal injection involving cruel and unusual punishment, and growing the support of the publict for a different punishment of life without the probability of parole (Ogletree & Sarat, 2016). As stated above the most pertinent debate in regards to capital punishment is that it seems to be applied more forthwith and intermittently with a large number of the capital defendants and death row prisoners being men from an ethnic minority who have been charged or convicted for murder an individual from a racial majority.

Legal Background

All through the history of the United States, minorities have always been inadequately represented in the criminal justice system most especially in trials where the possible result is death. During the time of slavery as well as after, blacks used to be lynched even at the slightest disobedience of an informal law of which many of them took place without any type of due process being followed. Even though the judicial system has evolved and minorities and their representation is becoming adequate, it is still not wholly free, impartial situations. For the last twenty years draconian commands have been put in place, but still the structure has traces of racial discrimination. The attitude of racial prejudice was first identified in 1972 by the Supreme Court in the case of Fruman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (Herda, 2013). In regards to this matter, the Supreme Court Judges believed that capital punishment was dished out unfairly which according to Gest in 1996 the Supreme Court felt that the capital punishment was being passed abnormally and blatantly most of the time on Blacks (Herda, 2013).

Years later in the case of Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 in 1976, and the Supreme Court made the decision with full control that the capital punishment could be used constitutionally. It is somewhat ironic that even with these various restrictions in place the system still does not put enough efforts to eliminate racial bias. Twenty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court discussed the issue of racial prejudice in the McCleskey v. Kemp case of 1987 (Keys & Maratea, 2016). The court was pressured into to taking a practical look at the problem of social injustice in the handing out of the death penalty. The court submitted a report where a social scientist had established that prosecutors were seventy percent more likely to pursue the capital punishment against an African American accused of the murder of White persons than trials that have other racial distributions (Russell, 2015). The research also identified that when an African American was found guilty of murdering a White victim, they were twenty-two times more likely to give the capital punishment. Blacks, on the other hand, found guilty of murdering Blacks were seven times more likely to be given the capital punishment than the Whites convicted of killing Blacks.

Despite the conclusions that were as a result of the information, the Court claimed that the comprehensive motif of prejudice did not mean that the racial problems influenced the ruling decisions in Georgia. The court also contended that because the research relied on statistical probabilities, the data had an inherent weakness. They argued that the researchers should provide unequivocal proof in regards to racism being a contributor to the decision making of the jury when it came to capital cases. Since the study showed that people who are the most prejudice are list likely to admit it thus this standard becomes difficult and even impossible. The total population of all 36 death row has increased since the Gregg v. George case the same to the number of judicial controls being used in every state. Among the 3,122 individuals on death row, blacks have 41% of the amount while whites represent 48% (Vollum, 2015).

Looking at this figure, it might seem fair, but one must take into consideration that African Americans account for 12% of the U.S. population. In the year 2016, the state of Louisiana had fifty African Americans who had been put on death row. In Philadelphia as well close to 40% those sentenced to death were African Americans the other percentage was shared among the other races (Russell, 2015). African Americans in Philadelphia who commit murder are treated severely which in the end results in capital punishment. The possibility of an individual being sentenced to death will strongly depend on the race of the person rather than the offense committed with another felony (Russell, 2015). Also when a person of color or an individual considered being a minority who suffers from poverty is usually frowned upon by the government. The study conducted gave evidence on the existence of a pattern of race discrimination. The research strongly suggested that defendants who receive the death penalty most of the time if not always have a white American victim. This shows that the justice system does not treat African Americans equally. More worrying is the fact that individuals who kill African Americans usually receive a less harsh punishment than the person who kills a White American.

A concerning point to note is that the death penalty is usually more active in the states that have a large population of African Americans. Most of the white prosecutors are responsible for making the death penalty decisions. Additionally, a white American who has authority is more likely to be lenient with their race while passing the capital punishment to an African American. There is a possibility that most are not aware when they are racially biased that is why most white Americans have a higher probability of sentencing African Americans to the death penalty. There was a duration of time where prisons had become overpopulated resulting in some executions taking place people of color fell victim of these implementations (Russell, 2015). This move led to it becoming a controversial issue as the government was faced with the predicament identifying who was sentenced to death. The social and economic class has been known to play a significant role in the sentencing to death. Additionally to the factors influencing racial bias in the death penalty is that 94.5% of the prosecutors elected in the death penalty are whites. A meaning that is acquired from this study is that White Americans are a community with an advantage of condemning Blacks to death.

Statistical Analysis of Racial Bias

Evidence from statistics has shown that for decades the death penalty has fallen unjustifiably on the minority groups in the United States. For instance, from the year 1930 close to 90% of those executed for the offense of rape in America were Blacks, today 505 of the people on death row are from minority groups who represent only 20% of the total population in the country. It was noted that in almost all the capital punishment cases the victim was always white. On account of the restoration of the death penalty, 229 executions have taken place, and only one involved a white defendant who murdered a black person (Vollum, 2015). Considering these statistics does it mean that minorities are genetically offenders, or does racial segregation have an undercurrent which affects the views of the major groups in our society? Many of the Television shows such as those of cops usually portray people of color as being the criminals, and this supports the myth that minorities are to be feared. Even though evidence suggests that racial bias is prevalent in the system of capital punishment this problem is more difficult than it is seen or as imagined. For instance, almost half of the individuals on death row prisoners in the United States are Asians, Blacks, and Hispanic yet only 34% of the accused who have been executed are Black. While 80% of the murder victims in capital cases whereby the defendant was executed were White (Edelman, 2015).

As of 2007 in January, 213 African American death-row prisoners had been executed for killing white victims considering there were only fifteen White accused were executed for killing Black victims. Studies also identified that 96% have made possible methodical analysis of the relationship between race and death penalty. There was a discrimination motif of the race of accused or race of the victim. In a study in North Carolina, it suggested that individuals who kill White victims had a 3.5 times chance of receiving the capital punishment (Foerster & Meltsner, 2012). In a different study, it found that the capital defendants in California had a three times more chance of winning the capital punishment if the casualties were White unlike if they were Black and their chances rose to 4 if their victims were Hispanic. In another report which was released by the Supreme Court in New Jersey, it said that the state had a higher chance of pursuing capital punishment especially for defendants who take the life of a white victim. Other states like Indiana, Maryland, and Virginia have also did this same research and came to a conclusion that the race of both the defendant and causality as this is the most regulating factor in most of the capital cases.

The leading origin of this racial bias in the death penalty are first the chief district attorney that decides to pursue the case and second the attitude of the white jurors towards minority groups especially people of color. It can be thought that with the support for the death penalty increasing venirepersons would be more likely to view discrimination against African Americans as a problem of the past in the United States; that African Americans have a significant contribution to school segregation plans than they are supposed to have. They can also choose to believe that Blacks are becoming too ambitious in their quest for equal rights, or they have grown more economically than they should and that in the recent year's Blacks have received more respect than they deserve from the government and news media. Research by Brooke Butler revealed the relation between death qualification status and the belief of the jurors that racism is still a challenge in the United States today (Kamuzze, 2012). It also evident that by just resembling more Black it influences the way members of the jury to decide on the sentencing in the capital cases.


Since there is a significant prospect of discrimination in the ruling of death penalty cases, it is crucial that all the stages of prosecution are restricted as much as possible. Even though these criminals are the worst that the criminal justice system has it is important that prosecutors are encouraged to look above the skin color of the prisoner and consider the gravity of the offense committed while still excluding the racial issue even when making the decision on the punishment. If the vast effort is to be practiced, then the judicial commands can be able to fight the racial bias of the legal structure in the United States. But in order to be able to completely eliminate this bias those in charge of the stages of the judicial must understand and learn to look beyond the skin color of the criminal and the value of the victim but rather they should consider the circumstances of the crime. Many of the states that have a large number of African Americans are known to use capital punishment a lot more than states that do have a majority white Americans. But even with states that have a higher majority of white Americans, African Americans still suffer and remain targets as the primary victims of this horrendous consequence. It is not right that people say they live in a nation that gives equal justice to every citizen yet racial disparities have plagued the system through which the society uses to implement the ultimate punishment.


Allen, H. W., Clubb, J. M., & Lacey, V. A. (2012). Race, class, and the death penalty: capital punishment in American history. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Edelman, B. C. (2015). Racial prejudice, juror empathy, and sentencing in death penalty cases. New York: LFB Scholarly Pub.

Foerster, B. J., & Meltsner, M. (2012). Race, rape, and injustice: documenting and challenging death penalty cases in the civil rights era. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Herda, D. J. (2013). Furman v. Georgia: the death penalty case. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow.

Kamuzze, J. (2012). Kenneth Williams, Most Deserving of Death? An Analysis of the Supreme Courtʼs Death Penalty Jurisprudence (Farnham, Ashgate, 2012), ix 226pp, £60.00, ISBN 978-0-7546-7885-4 (hb). International Human Rights Law Review, 1(2), 398-401. doi: 10.1163/22131035-00102010

Keys, D. P., & Maratea, R. J. (2016). Race and the death penalty the legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner , Inc.

Ogletree, C. J., & Sarat, A. (2016). From Lynch mobs to the killing State: race and the death penalty in America. New York: New York University.

Russell, G. D. (2015). The death penalty and racial bias: overturning Supreme Court assumptions. Westport, Conn. u.a.: Greenwood Press.

Urbina, M. G. (2012). Capital punishment in America: race and the death penalty over time. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publ.

Vollum, S. (2015). Death penalty: constitutional issues, commentaries, and case briefs. Place of publication not identified: Routledge.

July 07, 2023

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