A Test for Racial Bias in Capital Punishment


Alesina, Alberto, and Eliana La Ferrara. 2014. “A Test for Racial Bias in Capital Punishment.” American Economic Review 104 (11): 3397-3433.
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We propose a test of bias based upon patterns of judicial errors. We model the trial court as minimizing a weighted sum of type I and II errors. We define racial bias as a situation where the weight depends on defendant/victim race. If the court is unbiased, the error rate should be independent of the combination defendant/victim race. We test this prediction using an original dataset on all capital appeals in 1973-1995. We find that in the first and last stages of appeal the probability of error is 3 and 9 percentage points higher for minority defendants who killed white (versus minority) victims.

Last updated on 10/30/2014