The race of the victim has a profound effect on whether or not a defendant receives the death penalty.  Capital defendants charged with killing a white victim in Ohio are twice as likely to receive a death sentence as those charged with killing a black person.


More than 70% of the people on Ohio’s death row are there for the murder of a white person, even though more than half of all homicide victims are black.

Of the 138 inmates on death row in Ohio, more than half are people of color, even though they make up a very small fraction (13.1%) of Ohio’s population.[ezcol_1half]

Ohio’s Population by Race

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Ohio’s Death Row by Race


Source: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction


In 2001 the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit noted that the racial imbalance on Ohio’s death row is “glaringly extreme” and “to say the least, extremely troubling,” yet they were unable to act because of prior rulings by the United States Supreme Court that restricted court considerations of racially discriminatory patterns in death sentencing.

Race impacts death sentencing at every stage of the death penalty process, often in ways that are hidden or unintentional.  Cross-racial eyewitness identification, for example, is much less reliable than eyewitness identification from within the same race or ethnicity.  White jurors are less likely to be receptive to mitigating evidence like a past history of abuse when the defendant is black, and more likely to find future dangerousness – even though such jurors were not overtly racist.

Racial bias in Ohio mirrors that of states across the country.  Studies in states as diverse as Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have all found that race plays a significant role in who ends up on death row.

The Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty made several recommendations attempting to address the clear racial bias, including the adoption of a Racial Justice Act. Eliminating some of the aggravating factors which make a case eligible for the death penalty will also address racial disparity. Racial bias is most often observed in cases with aggravating factors like burglary and arson.

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