Findings

Dead Men Walking

Kevin Lewis

January 12, 2010

Estimating the Impact of the Death Penalty on Murder

John Donohue & Justin Wolfers
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming

Abstract:
This paper reviews the econometric issues in efforts to estimate the impact of the death penalty on murder, focusing on six recent studies published since 2003. We highlight the large number of choices that must be made when specifying the various panel data models that have been used to address this question. There is little clarity about the knowledge potential murderers have concerning the risk of execution: are they influenced by the passage of a death penalty statute, the number of executions in a state, the proportion of murders in a state that leads to an execution, and details about the limited types of murders that are potentially susceptible to a sentence of death? If an execution rate is a viable proxy, should it be calculated using the ratio of last year's executions to last year's murders, last year's executions to the murders a number of years earlier, or some other values? We illustrate how sensitive various estimates are to these choices. Importantly, the most up-to-date OLS panel data studies generate no evidence of a deterrent effect, while three 2SLS studies purport to find such evidence. The 2SLS studies, none of which shows results that are robust to clustering their standard errors, are unconvincing because they all use a problematic structure based on poorly measured and theoretically inappropriate pseudo-probabilities that are designed to capture the key deterrence elements of a state's death penalty regime, and because their instruments are of dubious validity. We also discuss the appropriateness of the implicit assumption of the 2SLS studies that OLS estimates of the impact of the death penalty would be biased against a finding of deterrence.

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The gender gap in death penalty support: An exploratory study

John Cochran & Beth Sanders
Journal of Criminal Justice, November-December 2009, Pages 525-533

Abstract:
One of the more enduring observations in the study of death penalty support within the United States is the strong divide between males and females. Men have consistently shown significantly higher levels of support for capital punishment than women. This divide between males and females has appeared in nearly every survey, over time, and across a variety of methodological designs. Using data from the cumulative (1972-2002) data file for the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) General Social Surveys, this study attempted to understand the basis for this gender gap. It examined gender differences in socioeconomic status, gender inequality, gender socialization, religion/religiosity, political ideology, positions on right-to-life and other social issues, fear of crime and victimization experience, experience with the criminal justice system, philosophies of punishment, and attribution styles. The findings revealed that the effect of gender on capital punishment support continued to be robust despite controlling for the effects of all of these explanations.

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Capital Jury Deliberation: Effects on Death Sentencing, Comprehension, and Discrimination

Mona Lynch & Craig Haney
Law and Human Behavior, December 2009, Pages 481-496

Abstract:
This study focused on whether and how deliberations affected the comprehension of capital penalty phase jury instructions and patterns of racially discriminatory death sentencing. Jury-eligible subjects were randomly assigned to view one of four versions of a simulated capital penalty trial in which the race of defendant (Black or White) and the race of victim (Black or White) were varied orthogonally. The participants provided their initial "straw" sentencing verdicts individually and then deliberated in simulated 4-7 person "juries." Results indicated that deliberation created a punitive rather than lenient shift in the jurors' death sentencing behavior, failed to improve characteristically poor instructional comprehension, did not reduce the tendency for jurors to misuse penalty phase evidence (especially, mitigation), and exacerbated the tendency among White mock jurors to sentence Black defendants to death more often than White defendants.

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The Deterrent Effect of Death Penalty Eligibility: Evidence from the Adoption of Child Murder Eligibility Factors

Michael Frakes & Matthew Harding
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming

Abstract:
We draw on variations in the reach of capital punishment statutes between 1977 and 2004 to identify the deterrent effects associated with capital eligibility. Focusing on the most prevalent eligibility expansion, we estimate that the adoption of a child murder factor is associated with an approximately 20% reduction in the child murder rate. Eligibility expansions may enhance deterrence by (i) paving the way for more executions and (ii) providing prosecutors with greater leverage to secure enhanced noncapital sentences. While executions themselves are rare, this latter channel may be triggered fairly regularly, providing a reasonable basis for a general deterrent response.

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Victim Character Evidence in Death Penalty Cases: How Many Songs Is Too Many?

Jane Younglove, Peter Nelligan & Ronald Reisner
Criminal Justice Review, December 2009, Pages 536-552

Abstract:
The U.S. Supreme Court's Payne decision opening the door to victim impact testimony in capital cases generally, and to victim character evidence particularly, has been controversial. The issue is whether a murder victim's character is relevant to the moral blameworthiness of the defendant. Several mock jury simulation studies have shown that such evidence does influence jury decisions imposing the death penalty. The current study took a different direction and examined the nature and extent of actual victim character testimony in samples of death penalty cases in three states. Data were derived from 14 transcripts of the penalty phase of trials in each of three states: California, New Jersey, and Texas, states with different political and legal climates. Content analysis revealed that there were numerous references to victims' character in the form of positive personality traits, in addition to descriptions of the impact the crime had on the victims' families and friends. Qualitative analysis revealed that many witnesses were allowed to use photos, videotapes, and other personal items to portray the victim's life. What emerges from this inside view of practices in courtrooms is disturbing in that the evidence allowed seems to exceed Payne's already meager limitations.

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The Testimony of Forensic Identification Science: What Expert Witnesses Say and What Factfinders Hear

Dawn McQuiston-Surrett & Michael Saks
Law and Human Behavior, October 2009, Pages 436-453

Abstract:
This research examined how variations in the presentation of forensic science information affect factfinders' judgments in a trial. Participants read a summary of a murder case, the critical testimony being the results of a microscopic hair comparison given by a forensic expert. Across two experiments we manipulated how the expert expressed his results, whether he gave an explicit conclusion concerning identity of the hair, and whether the limitations of forensic science were expressed during trial. Qualitative testimony was more damaging to the defense than quantitative testimony, conclusion testimony increased the defendant's culpability ratings when findings were presented quantitatively, and expressing limitations of forensic science had no appreciable effect. Results are discussed in terms of factfinders' interpretation of forensic identification evidence.

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Bad cops: A study of career-ending misconduct among New York City police officers

Robert Kane & Michael White
Criminology & Public Policy, November 2009, Pages 737-769

Abstract:
Police scholars and public policymakers throughout generations have sought to identify reliable correlates of police misconduct. Despite these efforts, general statements as to the etiology and epidemiology of police misconduct remain inconclusive, in part because of the inconsistent definitions of misconduct and the difficulty of obtaining the data required to make such statements. This research attempts to fill these gaps through a comparison of the personal and career histories of all 1,543 officers who were involuntarily separated from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for cause during 1975-1996 with a randomly selected sample of their police academy classmates who served honorably. The study uses confidential NYPD files as its major data sources, which include extensive biographical and career information. The study finds that career-ending misconduct rarely occurs in the NYPD and that the types of misconduct do not match well with existing definitions. Several factors emerge as significant predictors of misconduct, including officer race, minimal education, records of prior criminality and prior poor employment, failure to advance in the NYPD, and histories of citizen complaints. This study shows that existing definitions of police misconduct are difficult to apply to actual cases of police malpractice, which leads the authors to create a new eight-category classification scheme. The rarity of misconduct, especially on-duty abuse, confirms prior research indicating that most police officers do their jobs without engaging in serious malpractice. These findings suggest that the NYPD has become better behaved as it has become more diverse along race and gender dimensions and that the link between black officers and misconduct might be explained by persistent "tokenism." The findings related to race have important implications for continued efforts to build racially representative police departments. Personal history findings highlight the importance of conducting background investigations that disqualify candidates with arrest records and employment disciplinary histories, whereas the inverse relationship between college education and misconduct provides strong support for continued emphasis on pre- and post-employment educational requirements.

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Like Godfather, Like Son: Explaining the Intergenerational Nature of Crime

Randi Hjalmarsson & Matthew Lindquist
University of Maryland Working Paper, October 2009

Abstract:
This paper studies intergenerational correlations in crime between fathers and their children and the underlying mechanisms that give rise to these correlations. Using data from the Stockholm Birth Cohort, we find strong evidence of an intergenerational criminal relationship. Sons whose fathers have at least one sentence have 2.06 times higher odds of having a criminal conviction than sons whose fathers do not have any sentence. At the intensive margin, one additional sentence of the father increases the expected number of sons' convictions by 32 percent. Father-daughter relationships are generally not significantly different than fathers-son relationships. Traditional regression techniques indicate that socioeconomic status accounts for roughly one-third of the extensive margin father-son relationship and somewhat less, particularly at the intensive margin, for daughters. Over and above this, for both sons and daughters, our ability proxies account for an additional 20 percent. Finally, household heterogeneity, the most important component of which is household instability, accounts for almost one-third of the intergenerational relationships. More direct evidence regarding whether the intergenerational correlations arise through either an inherited traits mechanism or a father as role model mechanism is provided in four alternative experiments. These experiments focus on: (i) a sample of twins, (ii) an adoptee sample, (iii) the timing of the father's crime, and (iv) the quality of the father - child relationship. We find evidence that both direct channels play a role in the reproduction of crime from one generation to the next. Finally, we find that paternal incarceration may actually lower the number of crimes committed by some children, providing additional evidence of the importance of a behavioral transference mechanism.

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Potential Savings from Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina

Philip Cook
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming

Abstract:
Despite the long-term decline in the number of death sentences and the lack of executions, the cost of the death penalty in North Carolina remains high. To document this cost, the empirical analysis here focuses on a recent two-year period, comparing actual costs associated with capital proceedings, with likely costs in the absence of the death penalty. The conclusion: the state would have spent almost $11 million less each year on criminal justice activities (including appeals and imprisonment) if the death penalty had been abolished. Additional criminal justice resources would have been freed up and available to be redirected to other cases.

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Status Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment

Scott Phillips
Law & Society Review, December 2009, Pages 807-838

Abstract:
Numerous studies have examined the influence of victim race on capital punishment, with a smaller number focused on victim gender. But death penalty scholars have largely ignored victim social status. Drawing on Black's (1976) multidimensional theoretical concept, the current research examines the impact of victim social status on the district attorney's decision to seek the death penalty and the jury's decision to impose a death sentence. The data include the population of cases indicted for capital murder in Harris County (Houston), Texas, from 1992 to 1999 (n=504). The findings suggest that victim social status has a robust influence on the ultimate state sanction: Death was more likely to be sought and imposed on behalf of high-status victims who were integrated, sophisticated, conventional, and respectable. The research also has implications beyond capital punishment. Because victim social status has rarely been investigated in the broader sentencing literature, Black's concept provides a theoretical tool that could be used to address such an important omission.

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The Effects of School Desegregation on Crime

David Weiner, Byron Lutz & Jens Ludwig
NBER Working Paper, September 2009

Abstract:
One of the most striking features of crime in America is its disproportionate concentration in disadvantaged, racially segregated communities. In this paper we estimate the effects of court-ordered school desegregation on crime by exploiting plausibly random variation in the timing of when these orders go into effect across the set of large urban school districts ever subject to such orders. For black youth, we find that homicide victimization declines by around 25 percent when court orders are implemented and homicide arrests also decline significantly, which seem to be due at least in part to increased schooling attainment. We also find positive spillover effects to other groups, with beneficial changes in homicide involvement for black adults and perhaps whites as well. Our estimates imply that imposition of these court orders in the nation's largest school districts lowered the homicide rate to black teens and young adults nationwide by around 13 percent, and might account for around one-quarter of the convergence in black-white homicide rates over the period from 1970 to 1980.

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The Joint Effects of Offender Race/Ethnicity and Sex on Sentence Length Decisions in Federal Courts

Pauline Brennan & Cassia Spohn
Race and Social Problems, December 2009, Pages 200-217

Abstract:
The current study examined the main and interactive effects of offender race/ethnicity and sex on sentence length decisions for drug offenders convicted in three federal courts located in Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. The additive model showed that females received shorter prison sentences than similarly situated male offenders, but there were no differences between white offenders and minority offenders. However, when the data were partitioned by sex, black males were found to receive lengthier prison terms than white males. There were no differences between white males and Hispanic males, and white females were treated no differently than either black or Hispanic females. Moreover, when the data were partitioned by race/ethnicity, white females were treated no differently than white males. However, black females received shorter sentences than black males and Hispanic females received shorter sentences than Hispanic males. Further analyses showed that black and Hispanic males also received longer sentences than white females and that black males received longer sentences than all other offenders (with the exception of Hispanic male offenders). These findings mesh with those gleaned from other sentencing studies, although they are at odds with theoretical notions that leniency at the sentencing stage is reserved only for white women.

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Reassessing the Cost of the Death Penalty Using Quasi-Experimental Methods: Evidence from Maryland

John Roman, Aaron Chalfin & Carly Knight
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming

Abstract:
Extant research on the cost of the death penalty consistently finds that pursuit of a death sentence adds costs to case processing. However, these studies have important limitations in either the sampling frame or in their failure to include adequate statistical controls. This research draws upon a rich dataset of capital-eligible cases in Maryland to estimate the additional cost of filing a death notice. Multivariate models are used to control for selection into capital case processing and for competing explanations of cost. We find that filing a death notice is associated with an additional one million dollars in costs.

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Capital Jury Decision-Making: The Limitations of Predictions of Future Violence

Mark Cunningham, Jon Sorensen & Thomas Reidy
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, November 2009, Pages 223-256

Abstract:
The U.S. Supreme Court in Jurek v. Texas (1976) affirmed that capital juries are able to identify those capital offenders who will commit serious violence in the future. The capability of capital juries to accurately make these judgments as a means of deciding which capital offenders should receive the death penalty has been widely endorsed in both statute and case law, as well as embraced by jurors. A growing body of research on rates and correlates of prison violence, however, points to this confidence being misplaced. Prior investigations of the accuracy of these capital jury predictions, though limited in number, have found alarming error rates. The current study retrospectively reviewed the post-trial (M = 5.7 years) prison disciplinary misconduct of federal capital offenders (N = 72) for whom juries considered "future dangerousness" as an aggravating factor at sentencing. These jurors' predictive performance was no better than random guesses, with high error (false positive) rates, regardless of the severity of the anticipated violence. In light of prior studies, it is concluded that juror predictions of future violence lack sufficient reliability to play a role in death penalty determinations.

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Racial Disproportionality in Juvenile Justice: The Interaction of Race and Geography in Pretrial Detention for Violent and Serious Offenses

Jeffrey Shook & Sara Goodkind
Race and Social Problems, December 2009, Pages 257-266

Abstract:
Youth of color, particularly black youth, are overrepresented at every stage of processing in the juvenile justice system. This paper presents an analysis of racial differentials at an early stage-pretrial detention among youth charged with violent and serious offenses. It contributes to work in this area by exploring police decision making, which has been understudied in comparison with decision making by court actors. Contrary to prior studies suggesting that race differences in police treatment are found primarily in the handling of youth suspected of minor offenses, we find that black youth are three times as likely as white youth to be detained, controlling for other demographic and legal factors, including offense type and severity. This paper also contributes to efforts to understand how racial disproportionality occurs, by including an analysis of how geography affects detention decisions differentially by race. Using data from an urban county in Michigan, we find that geography and race interact, such that white youth from the suburbs are much less likely to be detained than white youth from the city and black youth from the city or suburbs.


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