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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Houston Law Review Article on Death Penalty Profiled in New York Times

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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The New York Times’ Adam Liptak highlights a forthcoming article from the Houston Law Review in today’s A New Look at Race When Death Is Sought. In Racial Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment, Scott Phillips of the University of Denver makes a surprising finding in analysis of death penalty statistics.

A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising.

The unexceptional finding is that defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. More than 20 studies around the nation have come to similar conclusions.

But the new study also detected a more straightforward disparity. It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.

We were excited about this particular piece when it first came in, but obviously this kind of attention exceeds those expectations. Our incoming editing staff deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Congrats y’all.

Stephanie Cecere, editor-in-chief of the Houston Law Review, will enter her final year at the University of Houston Law Center this fall. She expects excitement about her publication to pick up about the same time. That’s when the journal will publish an article by Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver. After studying Harris County death penalty statistics, he found that — all other factors, such as the type of crime committed, being equal — a black defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death than a white defendant in Harris County.

Tex Parte Blog: Running the numbers

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Category: criminal law, death penalty, houston and harris county, texas, houston law review, Texas, Texans & the Law


One Response

  1. lukegilman says:

    Houston Chronicle: Study suggests bias in death penalty cases

    In the study, to be published in the fall issue of Houston Law Journal, University of Denver sociology professor Scott Phillips concludes that black defendants are 1.75 times more likely to face the death penalty at trial and 1.49 times more likely to be sentenced to die.

    Lisa Falkenberg: Remedying unequal punishment

    Phillips suggests that prosecutors’ memos to DAs on capital murder cases be completely race-neutral. The DA’s office already eliminates race, but Phillips says they should delete all hints of race, including names and locations. He also suggests prosecutors refrain from making a recommendation on whether death should be pursued. The DA would make the decision based on his or her own review of the evidence and other factors.

    I asked both DA candidates, Republican Pat Lykos and Democrat C.O. “Brad” Bradford, for their views. Neither had read the study, though both had read a New York Times story on it.

    Neither liked the idea of the DA making the decision in isolation, without input from those most intimately familiar with the case.

    Said Lykos: “In order for it to be fair, you want as much input as possible.”

    While Lykos supported a race-neutral memo, Bradford said it would be impossible to produce.

    “Sounds good,” Bradford said, but he added, “It’s like the judge instructing the jury to disregard what you just heard.”

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