Baldus Study (Capital Punishment)

2011-11-14 10:44:06

The Baldus Study, conducted by Professors David Baldus, George Woodworth, and Charles Pulaski, was a sophisticated empirical analysis of 2,484 Georgia homicide cases that were charged and sentenced in the 1970s. The study found, among other results, that black defendants convicted of killing white victims were more likely to receive the death penalty than any other racial combination of defendant and victim.

The raw data showed that 11 percent of those charged with killing a white person were sentenced to death, whereas only 1 percent of those charged with killing a black person were sentenced to death. Because intraracial murders (victims and defendants of the same race) were more common than interracial murders (victims and defendants of different races), 7 percent of white defendants were sentenced to death as opposed to 4 percent of black defendants. However, death sentences resulted in 21 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 8 percent of cases with white defendants and white victims.

The study also analyzed 230 potentially aggravating, mitigating, or evidentiary nonracial factors. Based on a regression analysis involving the most significant thirty-nine factors, the study found that death sentences were 4.3 times more likely for defendants charged with killing white rather than black victims, and that this result was largely due to the choices of prosecutors rather than juries.

The Baldus Study was presented in McCleskey v. Kemp to show that Georgia operated an unconstitutional racially discriminatory Capital Punishment system. The defendant’s claims were rejected, however, on the grounds that the study failed to show either a constitutionally significant risk of racial bias in the operation of Georgia’s system or a discriminatory purpose specifically in McCleskey’s case.


References and Further Reading

  • Baldus, David C., George Woodworth, and Charles A. Pulaski, Jr. Equal Justice and the Death Penalty: A Legal and Empirical Analysis. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990
  • Baldus, David C., George Woodworth, David Zuckerman, Neil Alan Weiner, and Barbara Broffitt, Racial Discrimination and the Death Penalty in the Post-Furman Era: An Empirical and Legal Overview, with Recent Findings from Philadelphia, Cornell Law Review 83 (1998): 1638–770
  • Kennedy, Randall L., McCleskey v. Kemp: Race, Capital Punishment, and the Supreme Court, Harvard Law Review 101 (1988): 1388–433

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987) 

See also Capital Punishment; Capital Punishment and Equal Protection Clause Cases; Capital Punishment and Race Discrimination; Capital Punishment: Eighth Amendment Limits; Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972); Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976); McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 277 (1987)