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McClesky v. Kemp

481 U.S. 279 (1987)

tl;dr: The courts will not consider statistical evidence in Fourteenth Amendment challenges to the state's use of the death penalty.

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The case of McCleskey v. Kemp involved a black man who was convicted of armed robbery and murder in Georgia. The court was considering whether a statistical study showing racial bias in capital sentencing proves that McCleskey's sentence is unconstitutional. McCleskey filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, raising 18 claims, including that the Georgia capital sentencing process is racially discriminatory in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court denied McCleskey's claim of racial discrimination in Georgia's capital punishment statute based on the Baldus study, stating that he failed to provide evidence specific to his case that racial considerations played a part in his sentence. The Court also found that the Georgia capital sentencing system does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, as long as there is an individualized inquiry and relevant evidence is considered. However, the lower court erred in not considering the statistical evidence presented by McCleskey, which showed a significant racial disparity in the imposition of the death penalty, raising concerns about the constitutionality of the Georgia capital sentencing process.

The court upheld McCleskey's death sentence, but the Baldus study shows a risk of racial prejudice in capital sentencing in Georgia, and statistical evidence in McCleskey's case shows a high risk that his death sentence was influenced by racial considerations. The discretion given to prosecutors and jurors in Georgia's capital sentencing system creates opportunities for racial considerations to influence charging and sentencing decisions. Evidence of even a small role of race in imposing a death sentence is enough to consider it "cruel and unusual." Discrimination within the judicial system is especially pernicious because it stimulates race prejudice, which impedes securing equal justice for all.

The court applied a lower standard of scrutiny in a capital punishment case involving racial discrimination, which goes against prior legal precedent. McCleskey presented evidence of racial discrimination in the Georgia capital sentencing system, and the use of race in the system is unconstitutional. The State failed to prove that there was no racial disparity in death sentences for white and black victims, and claims of racially discriminatory prosecutorial selection of cases should be judged according to ordinary equal protection standards. The Court's rejection of McCleskey's claims falls short of the required constitutional inquiry, and further proceedings are necessary to determine whether McCleskey's death sentence should be set aside.

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Facts & Holding

Facts:McClesky was convicted of murder and armed robbery after he...

Holding:The Court rejected both claims, finding that statistical evidence is...

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McClesky v. Kemp

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