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Critical Examination of the "White Victim Effect" and Death Penalty Decision-Making From a Propensity Score Matching Approach: The North Carolina Experience

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 42 Issue: 5 Dated: September/October 2014 Pages: 384-398
Wesley G. Jennings; Tara N. Richards; M. D. Smith; Beth Bjerregaard; Sondra J. Fogel
Date Published
October 2014
15 pages
This study examined the link between defendant/victim racial dyad and jury decision making in 1,113 death penalty cases in North Carolina between 1997 and 2009.
When traditional logistic regression models were used in an analysis of offender/victim racial dyads in death penalty cases, there was an apparent link between death-penalty sentences and the victims being White ("White victim effect"); however, the use of propensity score matching on approximately 50 legal and extra-legal case characteristics/confounders, as well as the type and number of aggravating or mitigating factors, the "White victim effect" in death penalty cases was rendered insignificant. These results held true for a defendant of any race who killed a White victim. Data for this research were provided by the North Carolina Capital Sentencing Project, which consists of a population of jury decisions in capital murder trials in North Carolina from 1977 through 2009. This dataset consists of all cases in which the state secured a first-degree murder conviction; sought the death penalty; and the trial advanced to the sentencing phase where the jury decided the sentence. 5 tables, 2 figures, and 92 references