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82 U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 181 (2004-2005)
Life or Death Mistakes: Cultural Stereotyping, Capital Punishment, and Regional Race-Based Trends in Exoneration and Wrongful Execution

handle is hein.journals/udetmr82 and id is 199 raw text is: Life or Death Mistakes: Cultural
Stereotyping, Capital Punishment, and
Regional Race-Based Trends in
Exoneration and Wrongful Execution
No flaw in the United States criminal justice system is more serious or
has a more sobering impact than that which may send innocent people to
their deaths. The system of capital punishment in the United States suffers
from structural failures and culture driven human error that results in
unfair' and racially disproportionate2 capital sentencing. Scholars and
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 2004. I would like to thank Professor Jody Armour for teaching me
to think and write critically about the interaction between race and the legal system and for
his thoughtful comments on numerous drafts of this article; I would also like to
acknowledge the professionalism and hard work of the editorial staff of the University of
Detroit Mercy Law Review. This article received the 2004 Warren J. Ferguson Award for
the Best Essay on Social Justice.
1. Citing questions about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole, on
January 10th and 11 th, 2003, Governor Jim Ryan of Illinois freed 4 death row inmates and
commuted the sentences of all the remaining Illinois death row population to life
imprisonment or shorter. See Western Prison Project, Crime and Punishment in the US.,
Death    Penalty   [hereinafter  Western   Prison    Project],  available   at
http://www.westernprisonproject.org/PrisonIndex/Section-liDeathPenalty.html (last visited
Oct. 11, 2004); Russ Feingold, United States Senator, On the Issues [hereinafter Feingold],
available at http://feingold.senate.gov/issues -deathpenalty.html (last visited Oct. 11, 2004)
(arguing, [r]egardless of whether you support or oppose the death penalty, many
Americans agree that our nation's use of the death penalty raises serious fairness
concerns.). See also Brett Edkins, We are Just Dying for Death Penalty Reform, THE YALE
HERALD, Feb. 13, 2004, available at http://www.yaleherald.com/article-p.php?Article=2945
(arguing [c]apital punishment in the United States utterly fails in its supposed aim: to exact
fair retribution for brutal crimes.). For a thorough discussion of the relationship between
capital punishment and race in the United States, see RANDALL KENNEDY, RACE, CRIME AND
THE LAW 311-50 (1997) (the legal system has shown itself to be largely incapable of
acknowledging the influence of racial sentiment in the meting out of punishment even in
circumstances in which the presence of such bias is obvious. Id. at 311).
2. Although empirical studies suggest the existence of racial bias in many areas of
criminal and civil jurisprudence, one author suggests that, [s]omething about capital cases
makes them particularly susceptible to racial prejudice. See SAMUEL R. GROSS & ROBERT

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