It's who you kill that matters, according to new research

Mar 05, 2010

A defendant is much more likely to be sentenced to death if he or she kills a "high-status" victim, according to new research by Scott Phillips, associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver (DU).

According to his research published in Law and Society Review, (43-4:807-837), the probability of being sentenced to death is much greater if a defendant kills a white or Hispanic victim who is married with a clean criminal record and a college degree, as opposed to a black or Asian victim who is single with a prior criminal record and no college degree.

Recent discussions of the death penalty tend to focus on innocence and cost. Phillips' research says that arbitrariness has long been a concern.

"The concept of arbitrariness suggests that the relevant legal facts of a capital case cannot fully explain the outcome: irrelevant social facts also shape the ultimate state sanction" Phillips says. "In the capital of capital punishment, death is more apt to be sought and imposed on behalf of high status victims. Some victims matter more than others."

Phillips research is based on 504 death penalty cases that occurred in Harris County, Texas between 1992 and 1999.

Drawing on the same data, Phillips's previous research demonstrated that black defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants in Houston. The revealed in the prior paper become even more acute after accounting for victim social status - black defendants were more apt to be sentenced to death despite being less apt to kill high status victims.

The combined results of the two papers call into question the meaning of justice.

"Should justice be defined according to the punishment a particular defendant deserves?" Phillips asks, "Or should justice be defined according to whether the judicial system can hand out lethal punishment in an even-handed manner? The question strikes at the heart of the debate."

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Provided by University of Denver

4.7 /5 (15 votes)

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User comments : 11

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1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2010
And look where it's at, middle America
Now it's a tragedy
Now it's so sad to see
An upper class city having this happening
3 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2010
Troy Davis. Did he do it or didnt he? Despite what xians and other religionists believe, no one deserves special dispensation. No One. Look forward to the day when Computers decide guilt and innocence. People are neither fit nor capable of doing this. Look at the poor little me look in his eyes. The ad is a travesty. Go bash a baby seal and leave the ugly rodents live. Aesthetics is no component of Justice!! Though many may be incapable of realizing this on a fundamental level.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2010
"16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place if judgement - wickedness was there,
in the place of justice - wickedness was there." Ecc3
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 05, 2010
Nothing new here- I believe that the disparities in "justice" dealt out to various socioeconomic/racial groups relative to the same group of factors in their victims has been substantiated before. Over and over.

Funny that you can murder someone, and have a reasonable assurance of being capitally punished, but you can defraud and destroy the lives of any number of people, murdering them through the slow death of poverty or suicide, and just do some soft time in a minimum security hole- that is, of course- if you are ever prosecuted at all...
5 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2010
There is no justice in justice!
Opinion and self interest always win the day.
Then there are precedents, someone totaly unconnected at some time in the past will affect a judjes decision.
Safer not to get caught.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2010
I can boil it down even further: money is the prime determinant of "justice"- whoever has the most gets the desired "justice" outcome for themselves.
And remember- Drive Fast!!!
5 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2010
Anyone old enough to have witnessed the O.J. Simpson trial knows that the two-tiered "justice" system we have is not divided along lines of race as much as levels of income. Simpson, a black man accused of brutally killing two young white people, was acquitted mainly thanks to one thing: He could afford an elite legal team to defend him.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2010
A stunning revelation.

Most people think some human beings are more valuable than others.

Where on Earth did they get that idea?
3 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2010
A stunning revelation.

There is a significant difference between being sure of something, and confirming it.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2010
It works the other way around too, just look at the original OJ Simpson trial
not rated yet Mar 08, 2010
The criminal justice system is sorely antiquated. The confrontational basis of procecution and defence seeks not purely justice, but the victory of the better lawyer. In the US the legal culture in the system is biased towards the prosecution. Also, the cryptic, fraternal nature of the procedures and vernacular of the legal system in general (including civil, business, etc) is geared more towards preserving itself than towards efficient, fair, functional legal access.
Computer programs should indeed be used to do more than assist judges and lawyers. Having the same crime/situation result in the same verdict/sentence/settlement etc should be more than just an ideal. It should be the standard.