Dallas County (Texas) District Attorney Craig Watkins said he plans to advocate for a state law to allow death row inmates to appeal their conviction or sentence using studies showing that racial bias affected the process. Such laws have been passed in North Carolina and Kentucky and are referred to as a “Racial Justice Act.” Watkins said, “Throughout history, race has unfortunately played a part, an ugly part, in our criminal justice system. This is an opportunity for us to address not only the past, and those individuals who are still being affected by the disparities in treatment, but also in looking forward to make sure that we don’t have those same disparities in our criminal justice system.” A 2008 study in Texas conducted by a University of Denver professor revealed that black defendants in Harris County, which includes Houston, were more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants. Watkins added, “I’m just of the opinion that if we’re going to seek it that it has to be fairly administrated. No matter where you come from, what you look like, it has to be fairly administrated.”

In 2012 in the U.S., 60% of those sentenced to death were members of a minority. In Texas, 89% of the death sentences in 2012 involved minority defendants.

(S. Goldstein, “Dallas DA Craig Watkins to push for law allowing appeals based on racial factors,” Dallas Morning News, January 22, 2013; DPIC sentencing numbers). See Race and New Voices. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Race.