Who Got The Death Penalty by Andrew Beveridge, Feb 24, 2005 TwitterNew York State's death penalty law was in effect just short of nine years before the Court of Appeals struck it down for its "coercive jury instruction" last June. While Governor George Pataki says he wants the death penalty restored, it is not clear that the death penalty will be made legal once again in New York. Opponents of capital punishment make many arguments - that it does not deter crime, that it is immoral for the government to kill people, even that it is expensive: before it was rule unconstitutional, only .11 percent of those arrested for murder faced the death penalty, and yet the costs of administration were in excess of $250 million per year. But the most passionate argument is probably the uneven way in which the death penalty is applied. In New York State, those people who committed murders outside New York City, and those killing white victims, were much more likely to have been sentenced to death. How Many Arrested, How Many Sentenced Since 1995, when the death penalty was restored in New York, 6,545 arrests have been made for murder, according to statistics compiled by the Capital Defender Office. Of these, 500 resulted in first-degree murder indictments. Of these 500, 58 resulted in a "death notice" being filed - a notification by the prosecution that it may seek the death penalty. Of these 58: 9 cases are still pending, 27 resulted in life without parole from a plea bargain; one defendant committed suicide in jail; one death notice was withdrawn, five were given very long sentences; and 15 so far have been given trials. Of the 15 who have been given trials, One's sentence is still pending; one was acquitted; one was sentenced to 115 years to life; five were sentenced to life without parole And seven defendants were sentenced to death. All seven are still alive. Where You Kill Makes A Difference The chance of a first degree murder indictment turning into a death notice varies depending on where one is accused of doing the crime. Only six percent of the murder one indictments in New York City resulted in a death notice, compared to 23.1 percent upstate. Murder Arrests, Indictments, Death Notices and Death Sentences by Region Region Murder 1 & 2 Arrests* Murder 1 Indictments Murder 1 Indictments (% of Murder 1 & 2 Arrests) Death Notices Death Notices (% of Murder 1 Indictments) Death Sentences Death Sentences (% of Murder 1 Indictments) Death Sentences (% of Death Notices) New York City 4661 299 6.4% 18 6.0% 2 0.7% 11.1% Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester 553 58 10.5% 4 6.9% 3 5.2% 75.0% Upstate - Rest of State 1331 156 11.7% 36 23.1% 2 1.3% 5.6% Total 6545 513 7.8% 58 11.3% 7 1.4% 12.1% * Arrest data includes only those murders committed on or after 9/1/95 and excludes defendants under 18 Source: Capital Defender Office [if supportMisalignedColumns] [endif] The chance of being convicted and sentenced to death is much greater in the New York suburbs than elsewhere. (Given the few death sentences one should be cautious about drawing inferences about patterns, since the three death sentences in the suburbs all come from Suffolk and from three quite sensational cases. However, the use of a death notices certainly enhances the prosecution's chances of getting a long sentence from a plea bargain). Race of Defendant, Race of Victim Those accused of killing a white victim are more than twice as likely to receive a death notice than are those accused of killing only a non-white victim. Similarly they are twice as likely to go to trial and over five times as likely to receive the death sentence. These figures are statistically significant according to an analysis by David Baldus, an expert on the application of the death penalty. Race of Victim and Race of Defendant and Capital Cases Race of Victim Murder 1 Indictments Death Notices (% of Murder 1 Indictments) % of Murder 1 Indictments Death Sentence Trials Death Sentence Trials (% of Murder 1 Indictments) Death Sentences Death Sentences (% of Murder 1 Indictments) White 152 30 19.7% 8 5.3% 5 3.3% Non-White 344 28 8.1% 7 2.0% 2 0.6% Race of Defendant Black 293 29 9.9% 8 2.7% 3 1.0% Non-Black 207 29 14.0% 15 7.2% 7 3.4% Source Capital Defender Office from Baldus Testimony, Modified 265.4% 330.3% Because of the disparity in the application of the death sentence upstate versus downstate, and given the demography upstate versus downstate, blacks accused of murder are much less likely to receive the death sentence. Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and provides expert testimony on a range of cases, including housing discrimination. 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