McCleskey v. Kemp

McCleskey v. Kemp

481 U.S. 279 (1987)

Facts and Procedural History:

Petitioner, a black man, was convicted in a Georgia trial court of armed robbery and murder, arising from the killing of a white police officer during the robbery of a store. His habeas corpus petition to the federal District Court included a claim that the Georgia capital sentencing process was administered in a racially discriminatory manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. In support of the claim, petitioner proffered a statistical study (the Baldus study) that purports to show a disparity in the imposition of the death sentence in Georgia based on the murder victim's race and, to a lesser extent, the defendant's race. The study is based on over 2,000 murder cases that occurred in Georgia during the 1970's, and involves data relating to the victim's race, the defendant's race, and the various combinations of such persons' races. The study indicates that black defendants who killed white victims have the greatest likelihood of receiving the death penalty. The court denied his petition: it assumed the validity of the Baldus study but found the statistics insufficient to demonstrate unconstitutional discrimination or to show irrationality, arbitrariness, and capriciousness under Eighth Amendment analysis.

Issue Presented to the Court:

Does a complex statistical study that indicates a risk that racial considerations enter into capital sentencing determinations prove that petitioner's capital sentence is unconstitutional under the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment?

Outcome of the Case:

The Baldus study does not demonstrate that the Georgia capital sentencing system violates the Eighth Amendment. Petitioner failed to establish that the sentence in his case is disproportionate to the sentences in other murder cases. Since petitioner's sentence was imposed under Georgia sentencing procedures that focus discretion “on the particularized nature of the crime and the particularized characteristics of the individual defendant,” it may be presumed that his death sentence was not “wantonly and freakishly” imposed, and thus that the sentence is not disproportionate within any recognized meaning under the Eighth Amendment.

The Baldus study does not establish that the administration of the Georgia capital punishment system violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the Court has accepted statistics as proof of intent to discriminate in the context of a State's jury selection, petitioner failed to prove that the decisionmakers in his case acted with discriminatory purpose.