STUDIES: Colorado's Death Penalty Applied Arbitrarily

A recent study of Colorado’s death penalty concluded that the punishment is applied so rarely and without clear statutory standards as to render it constitutionally unfair. Professors Justin Marceau (left) and Sam Kamin (center) from the University of Denver College of Law, and Professor Wanda Foglia (right) of Rowan University examined murder convictions in the state from 1999 to 2010. The authors discovered that, while the death penalty was an option in approximately 92% of first degree murders, it was sought by prosecutors in only 3% of the cases, pursued through sentencing in only 1% of the cases, and imposed in just 0.6% of the cases. The researchers concluded, “A constitutionally sound capital sentencing system must limit the discretion of prosecutors and jurors such that the determination of life and death is not one of caprice or arbitrariness …. Colorado’s capital sentencing system fails to genuinely narrow the class of death eligible offenders so as to minimize the risk of arbitrariness. [T]here is no meaningful way to distinguish between the many who are eligible for the penalty and the very few who receive it.”

(J. Marceau, S. Kamin, and W. Foglia, “Colorado Capital Punishment: An Empirical Study,” University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Working paper, No. 13-08 (2013)). See Arbitrariness. Read more Studies about the death penalty.