With respect to race, studies have repeatedly shown that a death sentence is far more likely where a white person is murdered than where a black person is murdered. The death penalty is racially divisive because it appears to count white lives as more valuable than black lives. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 158 black defendants have been executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 11 white defendants have been executed for the murder of a black victim. Such racial disparities have existed over the history of the death penalty and appear to be largely intractable.
It is arbitrary when someone in one county or state receives the death penalty, but someone who commits a comparable crime in another county or state is given a life sentence. Prosecutors have enormous discretion about when to seek the death penalty and when to settle for a plea bargain. Often those who can only afford a minimal defense are selected for the death penalty. Until race and other arbitrary factors, like economics and geography, can be eliminated as a determinant of who lives and who dies, the death penalty must not be used.
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