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McCleskey v. Kemp

Citation. 481 U.S. 279, 107 S. Ct. 1756, 95 L. Ed. 2d 262, 1987 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, McCleskey (Petitioner), was a black man convicted of murdering a white police officer. The jury sentenced Petitioner to death. Now he claims that sentencing was administered in a discriminatory manner.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A criminal defendant has the burden of proving the existence of purposeful discrimination and that this discrimination had a discriminatory effect on him.


Petitioner was involved in an armed robbery of a store where an off-duty police officer was shot in the face and killed. The jury found Petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that there were aggravating circumstances warranting the death penalty.
Petitioner offered the Baldus study as evidence that sentencing was more often based on the race of the defendant and to a lesser degree upon the race of the victim.


Does the introduction of a statistical study indicating that race enters into capital sentencing decisions prove that Petitioner’s sentence is unconstitutional?


No. A criminal defendant has the burden of proving the existence of purposeful discrimination and that this had a discriminatory effect on him. The Baldus study describes sentencing in general and does not prove that discrimination occurred in this particular case.


The Baldus study proves that sentencing is biased according to race and it could have been used to predict the outcome in this case. Because of this bias, the application of sentencing guidelines is unconstitutional.


The majority accepts the results of the study as being representative of sentencing in general. It provides a retrospective review of the outcome of a group of cases, but it does not serve as a predictor of sentencing in a particular case.

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