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McCleskey v. Kemp

United States Supreme Court
481 U.S. 279 (1987)



McCleskey (defendant), an African American man, was convicted of two counts of armed robbery and one count of murdering a Caucasian police officer in Atlanta, Georgia. At trial, the jury recommended that McCleskey be sentenced to death on the murder charge and two consecutive life sentences on the armed robbery charges. The court followed this recommendation and sentenced McCleskey to death. McCleskey filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, alleging that Georgia’s capital sentencing process was administered in a racially discriminatory manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. To support his claim, McCleskey offered a statistical study that purported to prove a disparity in the imposition of death sentences in Georgia based on the race of the murder victim and the race of the defendant. For example, the study concluded that in instances where a Caucasian victim was killed by an African American defendant, the defendant was twenty-two times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim was also African American. The study also suggested that prosecutors were significantly more likely to seek the death penalty for African American defendants than for Caucasian defendants. The district court denied McCleskey’s claim based on the study, and the court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Powell, J.)

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

Dissent (Blackmun, J.)

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