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For immediate release: May 27, 2004
For further information: contact: Tamara Kendig
Office of Communications
(609) 292-9580

Supreme Court Releases Annual Proportionality Report

The New Jersey Supreme Court has accepted the 2003 Systemic Proportionality Review Report, an annual study of whether racial discrimination played a role in the administration of New Jersey's capital cases.

The report was prepared by retired Appellate Division Judge David S. Baime, who was appointed in 1999 by Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz as special master charged with monitoring the proportionality review in capital cases. Judge Baime was assisted by statistical analysts Dr. David Weisburd, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland, College Park, and Dr. Joseph Naus, a professor at Rutgers University.

The monitoring system approved by the Court consists of three different types of statistical analysis: 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, leading 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 decisions 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.

This year's review includes only 21 new death-eligible cases. Of these, only three advanced to penalty trial and only one actually resulted in the death penalty. In part because so few new cases were added to the database, the findings mirror those of earlier reports.

Judge Baime's conclusions are that:

1) The statistical evidence does not support the thesis that the race of the defendant affects the likelihood that he or she will receive the death penalty. Bivariate studies show that a greater percentage of white defendants are sentenced to death than African American defendants, but this finding is not sustained in the regression analyses or in case-sorting studies.

2) The statistical evidence shows that the race of the victim does not affect the likelihood that the defendant will receive the death penalty.

3) Although some of the statistical evidence 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. The counties in which a large number of African American victims cases are concentrated have low rates of cases advancing to a penalty trial. Less urban counties with a high concentration of white victim cases have higher rates of capital prosecutions. While some of the statistical evidence suggests that African American defendants who kill white victims are more likely to advance to penalty trial than African American defendants who kill African American victims, this inference is rebutted by the confounding factor of county variability.

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