Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis

Tim Lyman

Northeastern University, Institute for Security and Public Policy at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Date Written: May 23, 2017


This analysis of race and the death penalty in Louisiana looks at death-eligible cases, half of which were reduced to non-murder final charges, in addition to death penalty cases. It finds that black-on-black cases are under-represented in every category of outcome, and black-on white cases over-represented, leading all variances, at every outcome; whereas white defendant cases are mixed, over or under depending on outcome severity. Odds of a death sentence for a black defendant are eleven times greater if the victim is white rather than black.

Death-eligible cases in five jurisdictions that are disparate in race mix and population density are found to have these same race category traits of variance in each, traits also shared by the death penalty cases. The hypothesis of race neutrality must be rejected in every jurisdiction, and a new hypothesis of uniformity of variance patterns, even with the death penalty group, is found viable.

Felony aggravator homicide data is gathered inconsistently by jurisdictions, and the only sure aggravators, the 41% of aggravators coming from a coroner, show white-on-white over-representation leading the variance. Thus, race-of-victim analysis masks extreme differences between white victim cases, such as the fact that 31% of black-on-white homicides result in overcharged cases (death eligible cases finishing with non-murder charges), whereas only 11% of white-on-white cases do.



Keywords: Race, Death Penalty, Race and the Death Penalty, Louisiana, Risk Analysis, Death Eligible, Race Neutrality, Felony Aggravator, Race-Of-Victim, Overcharging, Aggravators