Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.
The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.
Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.
He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.
“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.
“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”
An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.