Article

RARE & INCONSISTENT: THE DEATH PENALTY FOR WOMEN

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Abstract

Previous studies of the national landscape around the death penalty for women have identified and analyzed past themes and issues.22 This Article brings the analysis current through 2005, beginning with a reprise of the conversations about gender bias and disparity in the death penalty system. It appears that female offenders have always been treated differently from male offenders in the death penalty system, sometimes for reasons that are easily justifiable but too often simply because of sex bias. The next section of this Article explores the current death penalty era, identifying those women who have been sentenced to death, those whose death sentences were reversed, those who were actually executed, and those still remaining on death row. National data reveal trends and patterns, as well as the death penalty states leading in this practice and the death penalty states that have never executed a woman. Finally, this Article explores the conclusions suggested by these data. In closing, specific means are identified by which death penalty jurisdictions can reconsider policies that result in sex-based disparities and can reduce those instances of sex bias in their death penalty systems.

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... Despite women constituting about 10 % of all homicide arrests in the United States, only two percent of female defendants are sentenced capitally (Streib, 2013). Streib (2005) describes capital sentencing of women as rare, inconsistent, and largely irrational. From 1973 to 2012, capital sentencing rates for females fluctuated independently of changing death penalty statutes, court rulings, or public opinion (Streib, 2013). ...
... Mitigating factors include evidence demonstrating the defendant experienced a challenging or abusive upbringing, committed the crime under provocation during the "heat of passion," and demonstrates remorse (Iyengar, 2011). Research suggests the circumstances of cases vary by defendant sex, with aggravating factors more likely in male-perpetrated killings, and mitigating factors more likely in female-perpetrated killings (Cooper & Smith, 2011;Gross & Mauro, 1989;Streib, 2002Streib, , 2005. ...
... One sex-pertinent mitigating factor includes evidence suggesting another offender controlled or dictated the defendant's criminal behavior (Streib, 2005). For example, dyadic homicide defendants comprising a woman and man more frequently result in judges and juries identifying the man as the dominant actor (Streib, 2005). ...
Article
Extralegal disparities between defendants sentenced to the death penalty and those who receive life without parole disturb even the most resolute advocates of capital punishment. Extensive bodies of research document extralegal factors influencing death penalty outcomes. Although studies largely focus on race and ethnicity, a growing body of research considers the impact of sex on the capital sentencing process. This paper reviews the extant research on the impact of the sex of the victim, defendant, attorney, juror, and judge on capital case outcomes. Women’s scarcity on death row and a previously documented “female victim effect” condemning male defendants who kill female victims, particularly for those committing crimes of sexual degradation, suggests that death row policies and their implementation chivalrously protect female defendants and victims. Conversely, a limited amount of research documents a “domestic discount,” or greater leniency for death-eligible crimes commonly victimizing women than for those victimizing acquaintances or strangers. Although opinion polls document greater support for the death penalty among men than women, juror sex inconsistently predicts sentencing outcomes in the literature. Minimal research on judge and attorney sex finds female judges more liberal in death penalty sentencing than male judges and inconclusive relationships between attorney sex and adjudication. Findings in the research on sex and death penalty outcomes support the existence of a “sex effect” and inform recommendations for future research to expand the body of literature.
... Most notably, Cornell Law School's report, Judged for More Than Her Crime: A Global Overview of Women Facing the Death Penalty, found that the population of approximately 500 women who face the death penalty worldwide are victims of gender-based discrimination and have faced, and continue to face, various forms of oppression (Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide 2018). Up until this point, very few references had been made to women facing capital punishment, and those few had focused upon women sentenced for homicide in the United States (US), arguing that women benefit from a gender bias at sentencing which has meant they are often spared the ultimate punishment (Streib 1990(Streib , 1992(Streib , 2002(Streib , 2005(Streib , 2006Carroll 1996;Shapiro 2000;Shatz and Shatz 2012). Such analyses fall short in their comprehension of the unique and often-times disadvantaged circumstances that give rise to female criminality. ...
Article
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This paper draws upon my doctoral research into the experiences of women who have been sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Malaysia. I utilise this case-study as a lens through which to examine the relationship between women, crime and economic factors. From my data derived from ‘elite’ interviews, as well as legal and media database searches (resulting in information on 147 cases), I argue that current feminist criminological theorising should be updated to incorporate the relationship between women’s crime and precarious work. As I show, precarity is gendered and disproportionately affects women from the global south. Overall, I find that many of the women who have been sentenced to death in Malaysia were engaged in precarious work and drug trafficking was a way to make ‘quick money’ to address economic insecurity. Clearly, capital punishment is incommensurate with the crime.
... Even though Portugal does not have the reality of death penalty, it is relevant to highlight that in other international realities, such as the United Nations of America, female accused were usually addressed in a compassionate form if they fit within the female conception and gender stereotype. Otherwise, if the female accused showed a more masculine posture, a more aggressive male behavior, such as coldness or a lack of remorse, they were handled more severely (Jochnowitz 2016;Streib 2005). ...
Article
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Society has undergone an entire evolution in the field of criminal penalties, as people want to avoid, or ideally to extinguish, crime and consequent victimization. However, the human nature would hardly allow such utopian society to prevail. Hence, as individuals, we do have codes and bylaws that govern our society. The number of male prisoners is considerably higher in comparison to female prisoners. The aim of the present research is to analyze the sex inequality in the Portuguese criminal justice system, as well as to discuss the following questions: (i) Are men suffering from unjustifiable discrimination by the criminal system? Or, (ii) are there any physical and psychological differences between both sexes? A quantitative and qualitative approach was used. A legal framework was created regarding penalty enforcement, followed by a review of the literature approaching themes of criminology, victimization, and sex inequality. To enrich and empirically support this research, the statistics provided by the Directorate-General for Justice Policy of the Ministry of Portuguese Justice are presented, and a descriptive analysis on the evolution of the number of inmates in Portuguese prisons and juveniles detained in educational centers, between 2010 and 2019 was performed. Implications of this study are is discussed to highlight mediation in criminal cases as a neutral future.
... The gender of the convicted offender in a capital case is also likely to influence whether the media provide news content about the ruling. The execution of women for capital offenses is historically rare (Shipman 2002;Streib 1989;2006). In fact, the number of death sentences imposed on women from 1973 to 2005 did not exceed 4.2% of the national total in any year (Streib 2006, 623-24). ...
Article
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In this article, we present and test a market-based model of news content about state courts of last resort. We test our theory by examining newspaper coverage of decisions in death penalty cases. Our empirical results indicate that news elements of drama, novelty, and sensationalism influence coverage of state high courts’ death penalty cases rather than traditional indicators of legal salience. News content either anywhere in a newspaper or on its front page is influenced by similar factors, but front-page coverage is more sensitive to dramatic conviction reversals and the rarity of executions in a given state. Our results suggest that traditional explanations of the relationship between crime and newsworthiness have limited impact on media attention given to state supreme courts. Media coverage of state high courts is instead associated primarily with the behavior of the court and its justices.
Article
This article examines the impact and significance of women subject to capital punishment for drug offences. Women are subject to the death penalty for drug offences; wherever data are available they describe low-level offenders, primarily drug mules. Sandiford's death sentence prompts widespread discussion about her, her culpability and the appropriateness of her punishment drawing on drug war discourse, and death penalty tropes. Framing analysis reveals the powerful and persistent nature of gendered binaries. The use of capital punishment against female mules troubles the gendered binaries that underpin US-led drug war discourse, and highlights the death penalty as a gendered punishment.
Article
Although much prior work has examined the influence of extralegal factors on jury capital sentencing decision-making, the influence of defendant sex has been largely omitted from previous investigations. Using propensity score matching methods, the current study analyzes data from the North Carolina Capital Sentencing Project to examine whether “sex matters” in capital sentencing. Findings demonstrated that prior to matching there was a significant difference in the likelihood of receiving the death penalty for female and male defendant cases; however, after matching cases on an array of legal and extralegal case characteristics, these differences were no longer significant. Further results revealed that male defendants’ cases included different aggravating and mitigating factors than female defendants’ cases and that female defendants had limited “paths” to capital trials. Findings suggest that any apparent sex effects that are observed in capital sentencing stem from real differences in the case characteristics found in female and male defendants’ cases rather than any direct effects of defendant sex on jury decision-making. Study limitations and implications for death penalty research are also discussed.
Article
Few criminal justice topics have garnered as much attention as capital punishment. This voluminous literature ranges from constitutional and procedural issues to race issues and gender issues. While the intellectual and legal community has paid a great deal of attention to the role of race in capital punishment, as well as the role of gender in capital punishment, the extant literature is lacking with regard to African-American women and the death penalty. To be clear, the lack of literature is not because there are no African-American women on death row. This article attempts to fill a void in the capital punishment literature through a qualitative analysis that explores the lives and crimes of African-American women on death row.
Article
Gender is a constant struggle. Throughout our lives, we contend with multiple unstable and oppositional social constructions of gender, or hierarchies of masculinities and femininities. Knowing, or trying to know, who is male and who is female, and how men and women should act, is a major part of the structure of our identities, our societies, and our democracy. These gender questions are not separate from race or class; together for example, they shape what is expected of a poor young White man or a middle-class, African American grandmother. Racialized and class-based, gender helps to tell us who is frightening, who is powerful, and who is human.Condemning females does not disrupt the masculinities of capital punishment, but condemning femininity does. This Article addresses, in turn, the gender in punishing by death, the gender of those chosen for death, and the gender-bending execution of Karla Faye Tucker. By understanding what Justice Blackmun called the “machinery of death” as repeated performances of White masculinities, we might loosen our attraction to capital punishment and to hierarchies of racialized gender.
Article
Day after day, across this country, ordinary people are summoned to court for a selection process that ultimately leaves them in a room deciding, with other jurors, whether a criminal defendant should be killed. The task handed to these jurors is an awesome, personal, moral decision, encased within the complex legal standards and procedures that constitute modern capital jurisprudence. The doctrine that created and sustains this moment of conscience reflects an ongoing struggle of rule against uncertainty, reason against emotion, justice against mercy, and thus, at one level, male against female. Capital jurisprudence -- the law for deciding whether to kill -- is also a hidden battleground of gender. As participants in an entrenched system of legal thought, we organize our thinking about law within this series of dichotomies, which include reason versus emotion, distance versus connection, and rule versus context. The dichotomous choices are not complementary, but rather conflict with and challenge each other. Those dualisms have a hierarchy; maleness is associated with the top end of the hierarchy, female with the bottom. Thus law is a gendered structure of power and meaning.I test these premises by examining one awesome moment in law, the decision of a jury to punish someone by death. The power of the law is manifest in this moment. If gendered structures in fact operate within apparently neutral legal principles and procedures, they will be deeply at work in the legal procedures that give the ultimate task -- deciding life or death -- to a person, a juror.
Article
As I write this essay in the summer of 2000, the death penalty is beginning to undergo a profound reexamination in this country. In particular, Americans are troubled by growing evidence that innocent individuals have been convicted and sentenced to death. The issue of innocence, in conjunction with concerns about high reversal rates, prosecutorial misconduct, and inadequate provision of defense counsel, has caused one governor, a multitude of city councils, and legal organizations across the country to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. In this essay, I suggest a different and particularly feminist reason for reexamining, and rejecting, the death penalty. The death penalty perverts society's response to the tragedy of a woman being raped and murdered by relying on a form of racism that is gendered in nature and by making the horrific nature of the crime of rape-murder a more important consideration in determining punishment than the individual characteristics of the person who committed it.
Article
Despite the paucity of research on the death penalty and gender discrimination, it is widely supposed that women murderers are chivalrously spared the death sentence. This supposition is fueled by the relatively small number of women who are condemned. This article argues that women are represented on contemporary U.S. death rows in numbers commensurate with the infrequency of female commission of those crimes which our society labels sufficiently reprehensible to merit capital punishment. Additionally, preliminary investigation suggests that death-sentenced women are more likely than death-sentenced men to have killed intimates, although the explanation for this disparity is not yet at hand. It is further argued, on the basis of a content analysis of state capital statutes, that there is a form of gender bias inimical to the interests of women in our capital punishment law: The death penalty is a dramatic symbol of the imputation of greater seriousness to economic and other predatory murder as compared with domestic murder.
Article
In this Article, I will review the matrix in which executive decisions in women's capital clemency cases are made, a matrix supplied by modern equal protection law, the nature and scope of the clemency power, gender politics, and contemporary death row. I will then conduct two thought experiments. Each invented case tests the relevance of gender in legally and politically acceptable contemporary clemency decisions. The goal is to understand the politics and law of granting or denying that very rare boon-commutation of sentence - to a female death row prisoner. The exercise offers support for two conclusions. In the age of formal equality, women cannot be granted clemency simply because they are women. The rhetoric of chivalry is untenable for the contemporary executive. A governor who is courageous and rhetorically skillful, however, can sometimes successfully defend the commutation of the death sentence of a woman as a proper use of the power to grant mercy, done for her sake, the class she exemplifies, the conscience of the governor, and the public.
Others also have made significant contributions on this general issue
  • Joan W Howarth
  • Lawyering Feminism
  • Death Row
Joan W. Howarth, Feminism, Lawyering, and Death Row, 2 SO. CAL. REV. L. & WOMEN'S STUD. 401 (1992). Others also have made significant contributions on this general issue. See, e.g., BALLINGER, DEAD WOMAN WALKING, supra note 2;
Why Women Aren't Executed: Gender Bias and the Death Penalty
  • Thad Rueter
Thad Rueter, Why Women Aren't Executed: Gender Bias and the Death Penalty, 23 HUM. RTS. 10 (1996);
Excellent student work has included Jenny E. Carroll, Note, Images of Women and Capital Sentencing Among Female Offenders: Exploring the Outer Limits of the Eighth Amendment and Articulated Theories of Justice
  • Lorraine Schmall
  • Forgiving Guin
  • Garcia
Lorraine Schmall, Forgiving Guin Garcia: Women, the Death Penalty and Commutation, 11 WIS. WOMEN'S L. J. 283 (1996). Excellent student work has included Jenny E. Carroll, Note, Images of Women and Capital Sentencing Among Female Offenders: Exploring the Outer Limits of the Eighth Amendment and Articulated Theories of Justice, 75 TEX. L. REV. 1413 (1997);
Avoiding a Death Sentence in the American Legal System: Get a Woman to Do It, 15 CAP
  • Kopec
Kopec, Avoiding a Death Sentence in the American Legal System: Get a Woman to Do It, 15 CAP. DEF. J. 353 (2003);
The Gender Gap Argument: Exploring the Disparity of Sentencing Women to Death, 25 NEW ENG
  • Melinda E O'neil
Melinda E. O'Neil, The Gender Gap Argument: Exploring the Disparity of Sentencing Women to Death, 25 NEW ENG. J. ON CRIM. & CIV. CONFINEMENT 213 (1999);
Michelle Lyn White; age 38 at crime and now age 44
  • Michaud
Michaud, Michelle Lyn White; age 38 at crime and now age 44;
Sandi Dawn White; age 34 at crime and now age 41; murder of four Latin females (her children), ages 5, 7, 11 and 12, in Saugus (north of Los Angeles) on 6-30-1998
  • Nieves
Nieves, Sandi Dawn White; age 34 at crime and now age 41; murder of four Latin females (her children), ages 5, 7, 11 and 12, in Saugus (north of Los Angeles) on 6-30-1998; sentenced on 10-6-2000.
age 32 at crime and now age 37; murder of Latin male (her husband) age 41 in Montebello
  • Angelina Rodriguez
  • Latin
Rodriguez, Angelina Latin; age 32 at crime and now age 37; murder of Latin male (her husband) age 41 in Montebello (Los Angeles County) on 9-9-2000; sentenced on 1-12-2004.
Mary Ellen White; age 40 at crimes and now age 56
  • Samuels
Samuels, Mary Ellen White; age 40 at crimes and now age 56;
DOB: 2-9-1948); murders of white male age 62 (her ex-husband) near Millsboro (Sussex County) on 9-23-2001 and of white male age 45 (her husband) near Bridgeville
  • Wendi Andriano
  • White
Andriano, Wendi White; age 53 at crime and now age 57 (DOB: 2-9-1948); murders of white male age 62 (her ex-husband) near Millsboro (Sussex County) on 9-23-2001 and of white male age 45 (her husband) near Bridgeville (Sussex County) on 10-17-2001; sentenced on 6-4-2004.
Suzanne Margaret White; age 44 at crime and now age 51 (DOB: 5-15-1954); murder of white male age 59 (her boyfriend) in Houston on 8-25-1998
  • Basso
Basso, Suzanne Margaret White; age 44 at crime and now age 51 (DOB: 5-15-1954); murder of white male age 59 (her boyfriend) in Houston on 8-25-1998; sentenced on 9-1-1999.
Anita Black; age 42 at crime and now age 47 (DOB: 10-5-1958); kidnapping and murder of Latin female age 20 (and victim's infant son) in Houston on 5-16-2001
  • Linda Carty
Carty, Linda Anita Black; age 42 at crime and now age 47 (DOB: 10-5-1958); kidnapping and murder of Latin female age 20 (and victim's infant son) in Houston on 5-16-2001; sentenced on 2-21-2002.
age 23 at crime and now age 32 (DOB: 1-7-1973); murder of white male age 80 in Amarillo on 11-13-1996
  • Brittany Marlowe Holberg
  • White
Holberg, Brittany Marlowe White; age 23 at crime and now age 32 (DOB: 1-7-1973); murder of white male age 80 in Amarillo on 11-13-1996; sentenced on 3-27-1998.
Lagayle Black; age 36 at crime and now age 44 (DOB: 5-11-1961); murder of white female age
  • Kimberly Mccarthy
McCarthy, Kimberly Lagayle Black; age 36 at crime and now age 44 (DOB: 5-11-1961); murder of white female age 71 in Lancaster (Dallas County) on 7-21-1997; sentenced on 12-?-1998; reversed in 2001; resentenced on 11-1-2002.
age 19 at crime and now age 21 (DOB: 3-26-1984); murder of white male age 46 and white female age 45 in Mansfield
  • Chelsea Lea Richardson
  • White
Richardson, Chelsea Lea White; age 19 at crime and now age 21 (DOB: 3-26-1984); murder of white male age 46 and white female age 45 in Mansfield (Tarrant County) on 12-11-2003; sentenced on 6-1-2005.
age 26 at crime and now age 35 (DOB: 1-4-1970); murder of white male age 5 (her son) in Rowlett
  • Darla Lynn Routier
  • White
Routier, Darla Lynn White; age 26 at crime and now age 35 (DOB: 1-4-1970); murder of white male age 5 (her son) in Rowlett (Dallas County) on 6-6-1996; sentenced on 2-4-1997.
Erica Yvonne Black; age 19 at crime and now age 32 (DOB: 9-1-1973); murder of white female age 43 in Houston on 6-30-1993
  • Sheppard
Sheppard, Erica Yvonne Black; age 19 at crime and now age 32 (DOB: 9-1-1973); murder of white female age 43 in Houston on 6-30-1993; sentenced on 3-3-1995.
Teresa Michelle White; age 33 at crime and now age 36; murder of white male age 51 (her husband) and white male age 26
  • Lewis
Lewis, Teresa Michelle White; age 33 at crime and now age 36; murder of white male age 51 (her husband) and white male age 26 (her stepson) in