Killers of 'high-status' victims more likely to get death sentence

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Washington, March 6 (ANI): A new American research suggests that an accused is more likely to be sentenced to death if he or she murders a "high-status" victim.

Scott Phillips, associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver (DU), studied 504 cases in Harris County, Texas, between 1992 and 1999 to come up with his conclusions.

The study says the probability of being sentenced to death is much greater if a defendant kills a white or Hispanic victim who is married with a clean criminal record and a college degree, as opposed to a black or Asian victim who is single with a prior criminal record and no college degree.

Phillips said: "The concept of arbitrariness suggests that the relevant legal facts of a capital case cannot fully explain the outcome: irrelevant social facts also shape the ultimate state sanction.

"In the capital of capital punishment, death is more apt to be sought and imposed on behalf of high status victims. Some victims matter more than others."

Based on the same data, Phillips's previous research showed that black defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death than white defendants in Houston. The racial disparities revealed in the prior paper become even more acute after accounting for victim social status - black defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death despite being less apt to kill high status victims.

The combined results of the two papers raise a big question about the meaning of justice.

Phillip said: "Should justice be defined according to the punishment a particular defendant deserves?

"Or should justice be defined according to whether the judicial system can hand out lethal punishment in an even-handed manner? The question strikes at the heart of the death penalty debate."

The study has appeared in Law and Society Review. (ANI)

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