Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Conviction Orientation, Racial Attitudes, and Support for Capital Punishment

Robert L. Young, University of Texas - Arlington

A long-standing objection to the Death Penalty is that it has been disproportionately applied to African Americans. Although the evidence suggests that sentencing inequities have been substantially reduced in recent years, concerns about this problem persist. A more recent objection to capital punishment centers on the argument that standards for selecting death qualified juries bias such juries in the favor of the prosecution. This research investigates the empirical connections between these two objections by simultaneously analyzing the connection between support for the death penalty and attitudes suggesting racial prejudice on the one hand and those that support a conviction prone orientation on the other. Multivariate analysis of data from the 1985, 1990, and 1996 General Social Surveys suggest that those who are more likely to be allowed to serve on death penalty cases are not only more likely to harbor racially prejudiced attitudes, but are also more likely to favor the conviction of innocent defendants over letting guilty ones go free.

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Updated 05/20/2006