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June 13, 2005

Extreme prejudice

So Texas courts are biased against blacks. Gee, no surprise there, but it’s nice to have the Supremes on your side—and not for the first time on this particular issue:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black death row inmate who said Texas prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with whites, issuing a harsh rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other. The 6-3 ruling Monday ordered a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, who challenged his conviction for the 1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk. It was the second time justices reviewed the case after a lower court refused to reconsider Miller-El’s claims.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was wrong to reaffirm the conviction by a state court in light of the strong evidence of prejudice during jury selection, justices said. The state court’s conclusion that the prosecutors’ strikes of people from the jury pool was “not racially determined is shown up as wrong to a clear and convincing degree; the state court’s conclusion was unreasonable as well as erroneous,” Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.
In the opinion, Souter noted that black jurors were questioned more aggressively about the death penalty, and the pool was “shuffled” at least twice by prosecutors, apparently to increase the chances whites would be selected … “At least two of the jury shuffles conducted by the state make no sense except as efforts to delay consideration of black jury panelists,” Souter said, adding that it “blinks reality” to deny jurors were struck because they were black.
Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed over one-third of the more than 900 people put to death in the United States. Justices last year issued stinging reversals in three cases involving Texas death penalty convictions on various grounds, a striking number for a conservative-leaning court that generally favors capital punishment. All the cases involved black defendants.

As I wrote back in April, the Death Penalty Information Center estimates that there are more than 3,400 inmates on death row in the U.S. On average, most remain there for at least a decade. Some 42% are black (compared with 12% of the U.S. population), and 46% white (compared with 75%). In recent years, 60-70 death-row inmates have been executed each year—the largest number in Texas. Since 1976, when the death penalty was reintroduced, more than 960 prisoners have been executed in the U.S.

But who they are matters much more than what they did. Criminologist Dee Wood Harper and computer scientist Stamos Karamouzis, of Loyola University in New Orleans, analyzed 28 years of death-penalty cases using an artificial neural network (ANN), a multiprocessor computing system that mimics the way the human nervous system processes information.

[W]e reconstructed the profiles of more than 1,300 death row inmates from a national population by using simple attributes such as the inmate’s sex, race, and highest year of education completed at the time of first imprisonment for capital offense. Then we performed various experiments in order to develop an ANN that is suitable to the profiles. We trained the network by letting it ‘witness’ 1,000 of the profiles more than 100 times each. Finally, we tested the ANN using 300 profiles that the network never witnessed before.

The ANN was fed 19 different basic data points about each inmate—but no details about the crimes themselves, or about whether each defendant had been fairly represented. Despite this, it was able to predict whether each inmate lived or died with greater than 90% accuracy.

In other words, if you’re a poorly educated black male, your chances of surviving death row are minimal. Particularly in states like Texas.

Posted by Stephen at 11:29 AM in Legal issues | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

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Yet again, Texas is served notice by the US Supreme Court that it has issues in how it administers the death penalty. [Read More]

Tracked on June 13, 2005 3:58 PM