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Status Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment

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Numerous studies have examined the influence of victim race on capital punishment, with a smaller number focused on victim gender. But death penalty scholars have largely ignored victim social status. Drawing on Black's (1976) multidimensional theoretical concept, the current research examines the impact of victim social status on the district attorney's decision to seek the death penalty and the jury's decision to impose a death sentence. The data include the population of cases indicted for capital murder in Harris County (Houston), Texas, from 1992 to 1999 (n=504). The findings suggest that victim social status has a robust influence on the ultimate state sanction: Death was more likely to be sought and imposed on behalf of high-status victims who were integrated, sophisticated, conventional, and respectable. The research also has implications beyond capital punishment. Because victim social status has rarely been investigated in the broader sentencing literature, Black's concept provides a theoretical tool that could be used to address such an important omission.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Denver

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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