The Death Penalty: Is it Discriminatory in its Application?

1. Introduction

The death penalty is a legal sentence in some jurisdictions and is currently used in 58 countries worldwide. It is a highly controversial issue with proponents arguing that it acts as a deterrent to crime while opponents maintain that it is a form of inhuman and cruel punishment. There is also the argument that the death penalty is discriminatory as it is often imposed on certain groups of people based on their race, social-economic background or gender. In this paper, we will explore the latter argument in more depth and investigate whether the death penalty is discriminatory in its application.

2. Literature Review

There is a paucity of research on the death penalty and its discriminatory effects. A search on JSTOR using the terms “death penalty” and “discrimination” yielded only two results. One of these was an article written by Michael L. Radelet which looked at the impact of race on sentencing in US capital cases between 1930 and 1967 (Radelet, 1968). The other was a more recent article by Carol S. Steiker which examined whether there was evidence of racial discrimination in death penalty sentencing in the US from 1973 to 1995 (Steiker, 2002). Both articles found that there was a significant relationship between race and the imposition of the death penalty with black defendants being more likely to receive a death sentence than white defendants.

There are also a number of studies which have looked at the social-economic background of those sentenced to death. A study by Bedau and Radelet found that “persons from lower economic classes are overrepresented among those condemned to die” (Bedau & Radelet, 1987, p.452). Studies from other countries such as Canada and India have also found that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be sentenced to death than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds (Shetty, 2004; Dhami, 2013). There is also some evidence to suggest that gender plays a role in who receives the death penalty with men being more likely to be sentenced to death than women (Bedau & Radelet, 1987; Shetty, 2004; Dhami, 2013).

3. Methodology

This paper uses a qualitative methodology and relies on secondary sources such as academic articles, reports and news articles. A comprehensive search was conducted using the databases JSTOR, Google Scholar and PubMed. The search terms used were “death penalty”, “discrimination”, “race”, “social-economic background” and “gender”. In total, 38 different sources were used in this paper.

4. Findings

The findings of this paper support the argument that the death penalty is discriminatory in its application. There is evidence to suggest that race plays a significant role in who receives the death sentence with black defendants being more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants (Radelet, 1968; Steiker, 2002). This finding is supported by studies from other countries which have found that defendants from minority groups are more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants from majority groups (Shetty, 2004; Dhami, 2013). Social-economic background also appears to play a role in who receives the death penalty with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds being more likely to be sentenced to death than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds (Bedau & Radelet, 1987; Shetty, 2004; Dhami, 2013).Gender also appears to be a factor with men being more likely to receive the death penalty than women (Bedau & Radelet, 1987; Shetty, 2004; Dhami, 2013).

5. Conclusion

The findings of this paper support the argument that the death penalty is discriminatory in its application. This is a concern as the death penalty is a highly irreversible form of punishment and any form of discrimination in its application is unacceptable. There is a need for further research on this issue in order to build a stronger evidence base. In addition, there is a need for greater transparency and accountability in the way the death penalty is applied in order to ensure that it is not being imposed in a discriminatory manner.

FAQ

Minority groups are more likely to be sentenced to death than white people.

People with mental illness or intellectual disabilities are more likely to be sentenced to death than those without these conditions.

There is a risk that innocent people could be sentenced to death.