Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Susan M. Carlson

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles Crawford

Third Advisor

Dr. Douglas Davidson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten


A review of the existing literature on death sentence outcomes (i.e., executions, commutations) shows evidence of discrimination against minority defendants (e.g., African Americans). Prior studies, however, have followed a Caucasian/African American and/or execution/commutation approach. Latino defendants have either been excluded or treated as a monolithic group. Thus, little is known about death sentence outcomes for Latinos, whose experiences differ from those of African Americans and Caucasians. Additionally, little is known about the treatment of the various ethnic groups (e.g., Cubans, Mexicans) that constitute the Latino community. And, since the focus has been on executions and/or commutations, little is known about other possible death sentence outcomes: sentence declared unconstitutional, sentence overturned, and conviction overturned.

Therefore, the main objective of this study is to go beyond the traditional Caucasian/African American and/or execution/commutation approaches. Specifically, these limitations are addressed empirically by analyzing death sentence outcomes data for California, Florida, and Texas between 197S and 199S. Furthermore, in addition to race and ethnicity, this study will explore the effects o f legal variables in death sentence outcomes.

Moreover, in an attempt to better understand why, how, and when racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to experience discrimination, a review of historical relationships between African Americans, Caucasians, Cubans, and Mexicans is provided. In addition, in an attempt to enhance our understanding of race and ethnic differences in death sentence outcomes, a theoretical typology will be proposed: the four-threat theory of death sentence outcomes.

Logistic regression, controlling for time under the sentence of death, prior felony convictions, age at the time o f the offense, marital status, and education, shows that discrimination in death sentence outcomes is not a phenomenon of the past. The findings reveal that race/ethnicity and several legal variables still play a role in the legal decision making process. Also, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on race and ethnicity, the results are discussed in relation to the four-threat theory, which attempts to explain race and ethnic difference in death sentence outcomes.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access