One of the central premises of the study is that because the vast majority of those sentenced to death are never executed, now a defining facet of our nation’s capital punishment systems, comparing the executions are actually carried out is at least as important as comparing the rates at which they are imposed. The Baldus study was unable to measure this; three decades later, the new study can.
The results: 22 of the 972 defendants convicted of killing a white victim were eventually executed. Of the 1,503 defendants convicted of killing non-white victims, only two were executed.
While less than 1% of all death sentences were actually carried out, prisoners who had killed white victims were 17 times greater than those who killed non-white victims. That’s demonstrably a racist system.
The study’s authors say that these measurements show “that appellate and post-conviction procedures, perhaps because they typically only offer retrials through the same procedures, do not offer meaningful mitigation for the type of racial disparities demonstrated in prior empirical research. In fact, our research shows that post-sentencing proceedings exacerbate, rather than remediate, the problems of arbitrariness identified at earlier stages of criminal proceedings.”
In other words, the results show that the Supreme Court’s multiple mewlings suggesting that the known and measured racism inherent in jury-based death penalty sentencing could be rectified by appellate courts turns out, provably, to be absolute bunk. The appellate courts and other post-trial means of adjusting sentences is resulting in even more race-dependent outcomes than the original trials.
Executions are being used as punishments for killing white people at a rate 17 times greater than it is for killing non-white victims. If the Supreme Court’s conservatives want to continue to pretend the death penalty isn’t being disproportionately used along racial lines, they can no longer hide behind some fanciful notion that the courts and governors, in their infinite wisdom, are carefully undoing whatever racisms happen to make it through the system.
Mind you, that’s not to say they won’t invent a new fiction to justify such a claim. But the data, again and still, doesn’t back it up.