Arbitrary Application

Application of the death penalty is as consistent as a lightning strike.

The death penalty is intended to punish only the most brutal crimes, but in reality its application is biased, arbitrary, and unfair.  Several other factors contribute to who receives a death sentence more than the brutality of the crime, including race, class, and geography, among others.  Here are some facts from Georgia...

  • Those convicted of killing white victims are 4.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those convicted of killing black victims [Source: Georgia Death Penalty Assessment, American Bar Association].
  • Prosecutors are twice as likely to seek a death sentence if the victim is white [Source: "A Matter of Life and Death," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2007].
  • 80% of those accused of crimes cannot afford their own attorney, yet funding for public defenders has been repeatedly slashed in Georgia in recent years.
  • The Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council is charged with ensuring quality public defenders in the state, but the General Assembly has repeatedly diminished the Council's funding and weakened its authority.
  • Georgia fails to meet its Constitutional obligation to provide legal counsel to all those accused of crimes.

The district attorney in each county has sole discretion over when to pursue a death sentence. This means that where a crime is committed can be as significant as what type of crime is committed in determining who lives and who dies.
  • In the metro-Atlanta area, a person is more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder occurs in a suburban county, such as Cobb or Douglas, rather than in the urban counties of DeKalb and Fulton. 
  • Someone who commits a murder on Paces Ferry Road in Cobb County is much more likely to get the death penalty than if they were on the same road just across the Chattahoochee River in Fulton County.

Application Resources

Death Penalty Info Center: Race

Statistical Profile of People Under Death Sentence - GA Dept. of Corrections [PDF]

"The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery.  It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics."

        --Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer

"Getting the death penalty in Georgia is as consistent as a lightning strike"

        --"A Matter of Life and Death," Atlanta 
        Journal-Constitution, September 2007