Jon B. Gould and Kenneth S. Leon, A Culture that is Hard to Defend: Extralegal Factors in Federal Death Penalty Cases, 107 J. Crim. L. &
Criminology 643 (2017).
http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/jclc/vol107/iss4/3, Empirical research has exposed a troubling pattern of capital
punishment in the United States, with extralegal factors such as race, class,
and gender strongly correlated with the probability of a death sentence.
Capital sentencing also shows significant geographic disparities, although
existing research tends to be more descriptive than explanatory. This study
offers an alternative conception of local legal culture to explain place-based
variation in the outcomes of federal capital trials, accounting for the level of
attorney time and expert resources granted by the federal courts to defend
against a death sentence. Using frequentist and Bayesian methods—
supplemented with expert interviews—we empirically assess the processes
determining the total allocation of defense resources in federal death penalty
trials at the peak of the federal death penalty—between 1998 and 2004. Our
findings strongly connect extralegal factors to the lowest levels of defense
resources, which in turn correlate with a higher risk of a death sentence. Far
from being idiosyncratic discrepancies, these are systemic and systematic
extralegal factors that stand between a defendant and his opportunity to
defend against a death sentence. Ultimately, we argue for a
reconceptualization of extralegal influences and the relationship between
local legal culture and capital case outcomes.