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Facts Sheet: Race

last updated February 6, 2004

Racial minorities make up a disproportionate number of death row inmates.

  • Between 1976 and 2003, 35% of all death row inmates executed were black.  As of 2000, blacks made up only 12.8% of the national population.
  • In a review of the federal death penalty by the Justice Department, 80% of the cases submitted by federal prosecutors for death penalty review involved racial minority defendants.  Over half of the defendants were black.
  • In Louisiana and Maryland, 68% and 67% of the people on death row are black, respectively.
  • In Texas and California, 25% and 20% of death row inmates are Latinos, respectively.
The race of the victim is a determining factor when deciding to sentence a defendant to death or to life in prison.
  • Black defendants accused of killing a non-black victim were more likely to receive the death penalty than any other racial combination of victim and defendant.
  • While 50% of murder victims are black, over 80% of death penalty sentences involved a white victim.
  • The federal General Accounting Office found that a defendant in Georgia was 4.3 times more likely to receive the death penalty when the victim was white than when the victim was black.
  • If the murder victim is white, the odds of sentencing the defendant to death are higher in 37 of the 38 states with the death penalty.  In Mississippi, those odds were as much as 5.5 times greater.

Even without the death penalty, Minnesota's criminal justice system already shows signs of racial bias.

  • Ninety-seven percent of Minnesota's population is white.  Of those charged with murder in 1999, 37% were black and 11% were Native American.
  • In Minnesota, the arrest rate for serious crimes was 12 times greater for blacks, 11 times greater for Latinos, seven times greater for Native Indians, and nearly double for Asians in comparison to the arrest rate for whites in 2000. 
  • In Minnesota, blacks are imprisoned at almost 20 times the rate as whites, which is the largest disparity between black and white imprisonment rates of any state in the nation.

Compiled from:

The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides, Death Penalty Information Center.

Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau. 

Homicide and Its Defense, The Beaulier Law Offices.

Face of the Twin Cities, The United Way Twin Cities,

Death Penalty Facts: Racial Prejudices, Amnesty International USA. 

"Program Summaries" pamphlet, Council on Crime and Justice.

Defining the Disparity- A Project Analysis, Council on Crime and Justice.

Fact Sheet: The Death Penalty and Racial Bias, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty