Report on Proportionality Released
Aug. 13, 2001
Contact: Office of Public Affairs
Winnie Comfort or Linda Holt
Trenton, N.J . The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted the first in a series of annual reports prepared by Judge David S. Baime, a presiding judge in the Appellate Division, on the monitoring of proportionality review in capital punishment cases in New Jersey. The Supreme Court adopted a monitoring system last year to determine whether racial discrimination played a role the administration of New Jersey's capital cases.
In his capacity as a "special master," a role that requires extrajudicial expertise and work with court-appointed experts, Judge Baime prepared the "Report to the New Jersey Supreme Court: Systemic Proportionality Review Project 2000-2001 Term." The report is dated June 1, 2001.
Baime was assisted by statistical analysts David Weisburd, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The University of Maryland, College Park, and Joseph Naus, a professor at Rutgers University. In an effort to provide the most accurate analysis possible, the monitoring system approved by the Court consists of three different statistical strategies: bivariate analyses, regression studies and case-sorting techniques. In order to establish systemic disproportionality, a defendant must relentlessly document the risk of racial disparity. This requires that the outcomes produced by the three modes of analysis substantially converge, or lead to the conclusion that racial discrimination plays a part in capital sentencing.
Judge Baime and his statistical consultants applied the three modes of analysis to three separate decision points: death outcomes at penalty trials, death outcomes among all death-eligible cases, as determined by Judge Baime and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and advancement of death-eligible cases to penalty trials. Three identifiable groups--African-Americans, whites and Hispanics--were examined, and possible disparities in terms of the race or ethnicity of the defendant and the race or ethnicity of the victim were considered.Judge Baime's findings may be summarized as follows:
- There is no statistical evidence that supports the thesis that the race of the defendant affects the likelihood that he or she will receive the death penalty. In fact, the statistical evidence points the other way: it strongly suggests that there are no racial or ethnic disparities in capital murder prosecution and death sentencing rates. Because the results reached by all three modes of analysis converge, or lead to the same conclusion, one may be confident that the administration of capital punishment in New Jersey in terms of the race or ethnicity of the defendant is color-blind and free from taint or prejudice.
- The race or ethnicity of the victim has no impact on the imposition of the death penalty. There is no appreciable difference in the death-sentencing rate between defendants who kill white victims and defendants who kill minority victims. Bivariate analysis, regression studies, and case-sorting techniques all yield the same result.
- Although some statistical evidence strongly suggests that defendants who kill White victims are more likely to advance to a penalty trial than defendants who kill African-American victims, this inference is rebutted by confounding factors, primarily county variability in the rate that cases progress to the penalty stage. Counties with a large number of African-American victim cases have low rates of cases advancing to a penalty trial, while less urban counties with a high concentration of White victim cases have higher rates of capital prosecutions. Because the problem of county variability in the rate cases progress to a penalty trial is beyond the contours of Judge Baime's report, he commends the matter to the attention of the Attorney General.