Term Paper: Public to Scholars, the Death

Pages: 15 (4228 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 15  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] A white woman was allegedly raped by seven men in Martinsville, Virginia. All of these seven men were sentenced to death and found themselves on an electric chair . The case is of utmost importance since it signifies the legal struggle to fight racism, racism that pervades the American criminal justice system .

However, Rice theory is anti-thesis of racial discrimination in the American judicial system. Rice argues that the seven black men accused did not only receive a fair trial, the atmosphere was free of "lynch mobs." He contends that race was not the sole or the most significant factor behind the court's verdict; factors and values other than race were into play as well. These values he points out are "due process, crime control, community stability, judicial restraint, and domestic security" (Rise, 1998, p. 3).

According to Rise, the evidence produced was clearly against the seven men charged with guilt in this case. For him, it is not a case of "legal lynching" or a case that supplanted the white supremacy culture in South. For Rise, it is a case where the court followed all the procedures to ensure justice was served. Holden-Smith (1996, p.1574) raises an interesting point here, that there was a conflict between the justice in this case, conflict between the justice for the victim and justice for the accused "black" attackers. This point is left out by Rise during his discussion on the case .

Professor Rise on the other hand argues that each accused man in this trial was given appointed counsel and some of them were highly respected members of the local bar. In addition, the defense put up by the defense council in this case was more forceful and impactful than the 'typical' defense given by any white defense council to a black man .

Holden-Smith (1996) would like to believe otherwise. Firslt, all the accused blacks were tried infront of white juries. The handful blacks that were present in jury were struck off the panel. Secondly, it is highly questionable that the confessions made by each accused in this case were voluntary. Defendants were not aware of their right to counsel during the confessions. Thirdly, the juries took less than two hours to come to a verdict. Such type of behavior was typical of white juries trying accused black men in the South. Lastly, despite Rise's argument of a lynch free environment, it is hard to believe that the ruling decided on by the jury committee was not influenced by sentiments of white supremacy prevailing in the community (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 1578).

Scholarly work has argued time and time again that minority groups in America have experienced discrimination at the hands of judicial system. Human Rights Watch report of 2000 indicates that black male drug users are more likely to be sentenced to jail than a white male drug user. Though scholars agree that racial discrimination is present, they are more divided when it comes to what causes this racial discrimination (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005, p. 622).

The literature is divided when it comes to analyzing the correlation between racial discrimination and death penalty. According to the study conducted by Sweeney and Haney (1992), there is a small yet significant effect of race on death sentences. The results suggest that white jurors are more likely to give lengthy sentences to the black defendants as compared to the white defendants (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005, p. 623). Mazzella and Feingold, on the other hand argue that race is not a significant factor when it comes to death penalty. However, when it comes to different types of crimes such as murder and embezzlement, then race does play a part in court's or jury's verdict (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005, p. 624).

According to Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, and Meissner (2005) study's results, race plays a small but a significant role in the decision making process, a result that is consitent with the one evaluated by Sweeney and Haney (1992). However, there was a surprising result in their investigation. Black jurors or particiapnats tended to give a stricter and lengthy sentences to black defendants as compared to white jurors. The same was the case when it came to death sentences. This element of bias ran high in cases where jury were not instructed properly i.e. ambiguous cases. These scholars argue that when adequate instructions are provided to the jury the racial affect on death sentences can be curbed (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005, p. 629). They further argue that an act of deliberation among the jurors may increase or decrease racial bias. The race of the foreman might prove to be a significant factor when it comes to jury's verdict (Mitchell, Haw, Pfeifer, & Meissner, 2005, p. 635).

According to Goodpaster, (1983, p. 820) race of a victim is a significant variable when it comes to judicial sentences. Killers of white man are more likely to face gallows than the one murering a black. Of these, black killers of white are most likely to receive a death sentence. This reaffirmed in by Bowers and Pierce and Ziesel's study,

"The data reflect a twofold departure from even-handed justice which is consistent with a single underlying racist tenet: that white lives are worth more than black lives. From this tenet it follows that death as punishment is more appropriate for the killers of whites than for the killers of blacks and more appropriate for black than for white killers" (Bowers & Pierce, 1980, p. 601).

According to Goodpaster (1983, p.820), "The likelihood of an aggravating circumstance finding, which death-qualifies the crime, is also greater for blacks who kill whites than for any other grouping." Bowers and Pierce (1980, p. 615) argue that,

"The effect of race of victim among blacks convicted of first degree murder far exceeds the impact of an accompanying felony charge. Indeed, among blacks charged with an accompanying felony, virtually half were found to have an aggravating felony circumstance by sentencing authorities if their victims were white, while not one was found to have such an accompanying circumstance if the victim were black" (Bowers and Pierce, 1980, p. 615).

According to Goodpaster, (1983, p.821) it must be kept in mind that that such racial disparity may vary across regions and locations. The sentence or punishment for the same offense might be different in two different locations. Hence, when you fuse this regional disparity to racial disparity the resulting effects of racial bias are compounded. For example, "For [felony-murder] killings under similar circumstances the death sentence is roughly thirty times more likely for the killer of a white in the panhandle [of Florida] than for a killing of a black in the northern region" (Bowers & Pierce, 1980, p. 607).

Bowers and Pierce (1980, p.616) sum up the arguments made by Goodpaster,

"Race is truly a pervasive influence on the criminal justice processing of potentially capital cases. . . . And it is an influence that persists despite separate sentencing hearings, explicitly articulated sentencing guidelines, and automatic appellate review of all death sentences" (Bowers & Pierce, 1980, p. 616).

John C. McAdams uses the concept "mass market" to explain the racial discrimination that has infected the American judicial system. According to this argument, criminal system is not only tougher on the black community or the black defendants but is likely to execute more black defendants than the white ones (McAdams, 1998, p. 154). However, McAdams argues that the vast majority of murders are "intra-racial and not inter-racial"; hence the entire concept of racial discrimination is ambiguous in parts. According to him, 90% of the murders involve a black killing a black or a white killing a white (McAdams, 1998, p. 155).

McAdams also talks about the specialist version. The "specialist" version of the racial disparity argues that the criminal system discriminates against the black defendants because there is lack of concern for the black victims. This argument is reaffirmed by Anthony Amsterdam, "although less than 40% of Georgia homicide cases involve white victims, in 87% of the cases in which a death sentence is imposed, the victim is white. White-victim cases are almost eleven times more likely to produce a death sentence than are black-victim cases (Amsterdam, 1988)" (McAdams, 1998, p. 160).

According to McAdams, scholars over the decades have held the notion that jurists are racists and hence are harsh towards the black defendants. He argues that if they are indeed racists and lack empathy for the black defendants then why would they let these black defendants off the hook with lenient sentences? Such an argument is flawed. For McAdams a plausible argument would be that when compared to murderers of whites, the American criminal system spends and uses fewer resources to convict the murderers of blacks (McAdams, 1998, p. 167).

The discussion on the correlation between race and death penalty has been a subject… [END OF PREVIEW]

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