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JUNE 4, 1998
10:54 AM
CONTACT: American Civil Liberties Union 

ACLU Says New Report Raises Questions of Fairness About Death Penalty
WASHINGTON - June 4 - The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed a new report on race and the death penalty, saying that it contains important findings that should cause every American to question the fairness of the administration of capital punishment in this country.

The report -- "The Death Penalty in Black and White: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides" -- was issued today by the Death Penalty Information Center. It contains conclusive information from two new studies that underscore the persistent racial bias that characterize the application of capital punishment in the United States.

The first study definitively demonstrates that being black in Philadelphia is an "aggravating factor" that makes receiving a death sentence more likely. The second study found that only 1 percent of the nation's 1,838 district attorneys -- who are responsible for deciding whether to seek the death penalty against any individual defendant -- are African American. Hispanic district attorney's comprise another 1 percent; an overwhelming 98 percent of district attorneys are white.

"The American public has been delivered a wake-up call today," said Diann Rust-Tierney, the Director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. "We once again have incontrovertible proof that the use of the death penalty in America is deeply and inherently racially biased."

Proof of such pervasive racial discrimination in housing or employment, Rust-Tierney said, has previously led to a moral and political consensus for legislative solutions. "But with the death penalty," she said, "clear evidence of discrimination has gone uncorrected."

Rust-Tierney expressed concern that African Americans and other people of color are deliberately excluded from the decision-making roles -- at all levels -- in determining who receives the death penalty. Examples from the report include:

Of 16 first-degree murder cases in Philadelphia, an Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon removed black jurors 4 times as often as other jurors; black women were removed from juries six times as often as non-African American males. Overall, the report found, Philadelphia prosecutors removed 52 percent of all African American jurors but only 23 percent of other potential jurors.

A district attorney in Alabama had a policy to use preemptory challenges to strike as many African Americans as possible from death penalty juries.

In Georgia's famed Chattahoochee case, prosecutors used 83 percent of their preemptory strikes against African Americans. In that case, six black defendants were tried by all-white juries.

"Today's reports demonstrate once again that our criminal justice system treats defendants differently based on whether they are black or white," Rust-Tierney said. "Today's reports show once again that we must - at a minimum -- establish a moratorium on further executions while seeking a color-blind and consistent system of justice."


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