RAND Corporation researchers could find no evidence that former Attorney General Janet Reno used racial factors in seeking the death penalty, they reported yesterday to the National Institute of Justice’s annual conference. NIJ, the Justice Department’s research arm, gathers more than 1,000 criminal justice researchers annually in Washington, D.C., to hear reports on crime and justice trends.
Critics have charged that both Reno and her successor, John Ashcroft, sought the death penalty disproportionately against black defendants who killed whites compared with blacks who killed blacks. RAND Senior Research Scientist Stephen Klein said a careful study of the 25 percent of 600 potential cases in which Reno sought the death penalty had concluded that the seriousness of the crime and the location of the case were the key factors–not race. Eight of the 94 federal judicial districts accounted for about half the death penalty cases during Reno’s term in office. The study did not include cases filed under Ashcroft or current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Panelist Barry Latzer, a political scientist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, noted that the pool of potential death penalty defendants were predominantly minority before they reached Reno from U.S. Attorneys’ offices. Latzer said the RAND study should go a long way toward removing the “race bias cloud” that has hung over the federal death penalty. The RAND study was ordered by Ashcroft.