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Geographic Location, Death Sentences and Executions in Post-Furman Virginia

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 8 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2006 Pages: 423-442
Tony G. Poveda
Date Published
October 2006
20 pages
This study investigated the issue of race discrimination and geographic disparity and the death penalty debate in terms of jurisdictional variation in death sentences (1978-2001) and executions (1982-2004) in post-Furman Virginia.
Findings from the discriminant analyses revealed that population size was the variable that most differentiated jurisdictions, with smaller and low-density jurisdictions the least likely to invoke a death sentence or to be the originating jurisdiction for an execution. However, jurisdictions may vary in terms of traditions of executions. Jurisdictions with a history of executions develop cultural and legal traditions supportive of capital punishment and conversely those jurisdictions where executions have not been established practice lack such cultural supports. The racial composition of a jurisdiction appears to be a critical variable. Jurisdictions with fewer death sentences and executions are less racially diverse than the State as a whole. In summation, jurisdictional variation in death sentences and executions can be understood in terms of factors that favor or disfavor a cultural tradition of exclusion, a necessary condition for capital punishment. The issues of race discrimination and geographic disparity have been central to the death penalty debate since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Furman decision (Furman v. Georgia, 1972). The ruling of the Court declared existing death penalty statutes unconstitutional because of how they were administered--in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. This research was focused on why approximately half of the counties and cities in post-Furman Virginia that have had capital-eligible crimes have not yielded any death sentences or executions. The study examined 85 counties and cities in Virginia that had at least 3 potential capital crimes between 1978 and 2001. Tables, references