What if you knew that factors such as race or geography could affect whether or not a defendant was sent to death row?
African Americans constitute 12 percent of the U.S. population but account for more than 70 percent of those on federal death row. Opponents of the death penalty call for a moratorium on capital punishment, which they believe unfairly targets individuals of certain classes and races.
Attorney General John Ashcroft recently defended the U.S. system, citing a Justice Department review that found that attorneys recommended the death penalty in higher proportions for white defendants than for African-American or Hispanic defendants, concluding that there was no bias against minorities.
Critics are concerned that the study left out a number of important cases. They also point out that the race of the victim seems to be an important factor in determining whether a defendant is sent to death row or given a life sentence. Nationally, almost all death sentences (82 percent) involve white victims. On the state level as well, there are examples in which the race of the murder victim seems to play a role in sentencing.
Georgia prosecutors seek the death penalty much more frequently in cases involving crimes committed by blacks against whites than in cases involving other racial combinations. In Alabama, 80 percent of the prisoners awaiting execution were convicted of crimes against white victims, while 65 percent of all murders in the state involve black victims. In North Carolina, researchers studied all homicide cases between 1993 and 1997 and found that the likelihood of getting a death sentence increased three and a half times if the victim was white rather than black.
To opponents of capital punishment, these disparities are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discrepancies in states' application of the death penalty. Some states have a sentence of life without parole, while others do not. And in many states that do offer the alternative of life without parole, judges are barred from telling the jury of that option. National polls have shown that supporters of the death penalty, when offered the alternative of life without parole, would sometimes choose the latter.
as a form of punishment for those convicted of taking a life?
YES | NO