STUDIES: Murder of Female Victims More Likely to Result in Death Sentence

A recent study by researchers at Cornell Law School found that the gender of the murder victim may influence whether a defendant receives the death penalty. Using data from 1976 to 2007 in Delaware, the study found that in cases with female victims, 47.1% resulted in death sentences, while in those involving male victims, only 32.3% were sentenced to death. The researchers looked at a number of factors other than the victim's gender that might have affected sentencing decisions, including the heinousness of the crime, whether there was a sexual element to the murder, and the relationship between defendant and victim. The study found that some of the gender effect in sentencing could be explained by factors other than just the gender of the victim. Crimes involving sexual violence were more likely to result in a death sentence, as were crimes in which the victim and defendant knew one another, and victims of both of those types of crimes are more likely to be women.

The authors concluded, "While more research needs to be done, using both larger databases and information from other regions, our analyses suggest that victim gender continues to influence capital sentencing decisions."

(C. Royer, et al., "Victim Gender and the Death Penalty," 82 University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review 429 (forthcoming, 2014)). See Studies, Arbitrariness, and Women.