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Race and Prosecutorial Discretion in Homicide Cases

Michael L. Radelet and Glenn L. Pierce
Law & Society Review
Vol. 19, No. 4 (1985), pp. 587-622
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3053422
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3053422
Page Count: 35
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Race and Prosecutorial Discretion in Homicide Cases
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Abstract

This paper examines the cases of 1017 homicide defendants in Florida. Two main data sources are used: the police department's classification of the case, as found in the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Reports, and the prosecutor's classification, as determined by court records. Each data set characterizes the homicide as involving felonious circumstances, possible felonious circumstances, or nonfelonious circumstances. Attention is focused on cases that differ in their police and prosecutorial classifications. Results indicate that differences in these classifications are related to defendant's and victim's race, with blacks accused of killing whites the most likely to be "upgraded" and the least likely to be "downgraded." The process of upgrading is then shown to significantly increase the likelihood of the imposition of a death sentence in cases with white victims where no plea bargain is offered.

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