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NCJ Number: 93752 Find in a Library
Title: Comparative Review of Death Sentences - An Empirical Study of the Georgia Experience
Journal: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology  Volume:74  Issue:3  Dated:(Fall 1983)  Pages:661-753
Author(s): D C Baldus; C Pulaski; G Woodworth
Date Published: 1983
Page Count: 93
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study assesses the manner in which the Georgia Supreme Court has performed sentence review in capital cases as a safeguard against comparatively excessive death sentences, particularly with respect to 68 death sentence cases which the court reviewed and affirmed between 1973 and 1979.
Abstract: The analysis used two data sets. The first consisted of 130 pre-Furman murder defendants tried and sentenced by a jury between January 1, 1970, and September 29, 1972, the date of Furman v. Georgia. The second data set consists of 594 defendants tried and sentenced for murder under Georgia's post-Furman death-sentencing statute. Seven measures of comparative excessiveness were used in this study. Three of the measures are designed to assess the excessiveness of an individual death sentence and are modeled after the methods currently used by State supreme courts. The four other measures are designed to measure systemwide excessiveness from different perspectives. First, the study found that Georgia's post-Furman death-sentencing system continues to impose death sentences that are presumptively excessive according to a variety of measures used. Second, it was determined that the Georgia Supreme Court has never vacated a death sentence imposed in a murder case on the grounds that it was excessive or disproportionate because of the infrequency of death sentencing among similar cases. Third, based on the measures, relatively few of the 68 death sentences examined would qualify as presumptively evenhanded. There was some evidence to support the hypothesis that the Georgia Supreme Court reverses capital convictions or vacates death sentences on procedural grounds at a higher rate in cases involving arguably excessive death sentences, but this form of de facto comparative sentence review is not sufficient to overcome the discrepancy between the court's sentence review decisions and the results of the analysis. The findings suggest that the Georgia Supreme Court invariably fails to vacate death sentences as excessive or disproportionate because when identifying other cases as 'similar' to the death sentence case under review for comparative purposes, the court almost exclusively chooses cases that resulted in death sentences. It is concluded that a properly conducted sentence review procedure may be demanding but not impossible. The appendixes contain brief statements describing the cases reviewed and a portrayal of death sentencing frequencies among subgroups of defendants who killed one victim. Tabular data and 183 footnotes are provided.
Index Term(s): Capital punishment; Georgia (USA); Sentence review; Sentencing disparity
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