Brief Fact Summary. McCleskey (Defendant) was sentenced to death for his role in an armed robbery, which resulted in the murder of a police officer. He challenged his sentence on the ground that it was imposed because he was black. Defendant provided statistical evidence that blacks disproportionately received death sentences when the murder victim was white.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Statistical evidence showing that one racial group receives a disproportionate amount of death sentences, as opposed to other groups, is not sufficient to challenge a state death penalty statute under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A defendant must prove the presence of racial discrimination in his own case. Discretion allows a jury to be influenced by racial prejudice, but it does not violate the Eighth Amendment since juror discretion frequently works to the defendant’s benefit.
Facts. Defendant, who was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer, challenged the constitutionality of his sentence, citing a study performed by Professor David C. Baldus (Baldus Study). This study purported to show that black defendants were more likely to receive capital punishment than white defendants, particularly when the victim was white. Defendant alleged that this proved his sentence was the result of unconstitutional racial discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. He further claimed that the Georgia death penalty statute violated the Eighth Amendment by giving the jury too much discretion in deciding upon a death sentence, such that racial bias could influence their decision.
Issue. Did the Georgia death penalty statute racially discriminate against Defendant in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Does the Georgia death penalty statute violate the Eighth Amendment by giving juries so much discretion in reaching their decision on punishment that racial discrimination may be a potential factor in their deliberations?