Research that attempts to document racial or gender disparities in the criminal justice system inevitably paints a distorted picture if only one point in the criminal justice process is examined. For example, studies that look at who is sentenced to death among a group convicted of first-degree murder will miss exposure of biases that occur at earlier stages of the criminal justice process. In this paper, we looked at prosecutorial files on over 400 homicide cases from Caddo Parish, Louisiana (the Shreveport area). Results indicate that even after controlling for aggravating factors, cases with White female victims result in thicker files than other homicides, indicating more prosecutorial effort in attempting to secure convictions in such cases. This, in turn, was related to more severe sentencing of offenders convicted of killing whites and women. On the other hand, cases with black victims resulted in the thinnest case files and the least severe sentences.
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The great majority (91.6 %) of criminal homicide offenders in the sample are male, and the gender of the offender was not significantly related to sentence. As a result we did not employ the gender of the offender in our analysis.
The dependent variable was changed to “per 100 pages of documents in the prosecutors’ case files” in order to ease interpretation of the independent variable regression coefficients.
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The authors would like thank the Proteus Action League for their financial assistance to facilitate the gathering of the data. In addition, we thank the Institute on Race and Justice in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University and the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado for their longstanding support, and Scott Phillips for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments from Tara Richards and the two anonymous reviewers.
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Pierce, G.L., Radelet, M.L., Posick, C. et al. Race and the Construction of Evidence in Homicide Cases. Am J Crim Just 39, 771–786 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-014-9259-1