Examining the sources of racial bias in potentially capital cases: A case study of police and prosecutorial discretion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


While prior research has uncovered racial disparities in the administration of death sentences, little attention has been devoted to earlier stages in the capital punishment processes. To understand the locus of racial bias within death penalty institutions, this study examines the entry of homicide cases into Los Angeles County’s criminal justice system during a 5-year period. This two-part analysis seeks to answer the following research questions: (1) Does victim/defendant race influence homicide clearance and death penalty charging decisions? and (2) if so, does the likelihood of clearance mediate the effect of victim race on death penalty charges? Logistic regressions indicate that cases involving Latino victims are less likely to be cleared. Moreover, cases with Black and Latino victims are less likely to be prosecuted with a death penalty–eligible charge. Racial disparities accumulate across these stages, with clearance patterns influencing subsequent death penalty charging decisions. Results underscore the cumulative nature of racial within criminal justice institutions. By linking police and prosecution outcomes, these findings also highlight the interrelationship between criminal justice agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-34
Number of pages28
JournalRace and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017



  • Capital punishment
  • Cumulative racial disadvantage
  • Death penalty
  • Homicide clearance
  • Prosecutorial discretion
  • Racial disparity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Anthropology

Cite this