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McClskey vs Kemp Supreme Court Essay

Chapter 11, McCleskey v. Kemp

Study Questions

McCleskey’s Appeal

What was the basis of McCleskey’s appeal?

What amendments did he claim had been violated?


The Study

What group was the focus of the study?


What were the main results of the study?


What does it mean to say that the defendant’s race “interacted” with the victim’s race to produce disparities in death penalty sentencing?


What is a mid-range case?  “Midrange” with respect to what?  Would McCleskey’s case be considered midrange or extreme?


When were Georgia prosecutors most likely to seek death?


Supreme Court

14th Amendment

Why did the Supreme Court reject McCleskey’s 14th Amendment argument?


What standard did the Supreme Court articulate for proving an equal protection violation?

Is it enough to demonstrate that in similar cases discrimination has occurred?


Would it be enough to show that Georgia’s legal system had discriminatory effects?

Did the Supreme Court deny that the study suggested that Georgia’s process for imposing the death penalty had discriminatory effects?


What is discretion?

How did prosecutorial discretion affect the Court’s evaluation of McCleskey’s argument?


Why did the Court reject McCleskey’s historical argument?  Did the Court do the same thing in VMI when looking at the past history of discrimination against women in VMI?


What was the “legitimate and unchallenged” explanation for McCleskey’s death sentence?


Did the Court think there was any evidence that Georgia’s legislature had acted with discriminatory purpose?  Why or why not?


8th Amendment

Why did the Supreme Court reject McCleskey’s 8th Amendment argument?


How are contemporary values relevant to the interpretation of the 8th Amendment?

How are contemporary values assessed?


If a state permitted fraud to be punished by death would that violate the 8th Amendment?  Why?

Why might jury nullification signal that a punishment is “cruel and unusual”?


Why is bifurcation of the guilt and penalty phases of a trial thought to make the imposition of a penalty less capricious?


What does it mean to say that a jury’s sentencing discretion is guided and objective?


Why did the Court conclude that the range of discretion that Georgia allowed to legal decision makers was constitutionally permissible?


Why did the Court think that the automatic appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court undermined McCleskey’s 8th Amendment argument?


McCleskey argued that because similarly situated defendants had not received the death penalty, it violated his 8th Amendment rights. Why did the Court disagree?

If sentencing is lenient in some cases, does that make the imposition of death arbitrary and capricious in other similar cases?


Further Issues for the Court

According to the Supreme Court, which legal decision maker is best positioned to make use of the results of the Study? Why?


Why was the Supreme Court worried that if it ruled in McCleskey’s favor on the basis of the Study, the legal system could become paralyzed by appeals?


Would the Court’s holding have been any different if McCleskey had based his argument on a study that showed men were far more likely to be sentenced to death than women for committing similar crimes?


What was the Court’s vote in McCleskey (i.e., How many Justices voted in support of the Majority Opinion)?


Social Science

What is a multiple regression analysis?


According to Baldus et al. (1990), what was the main reason for disparity in capital sentencing for defendants whose victims were White as opposed to Black?


According to the Department of Justice (2000), why do minorities make up a greater percentage of those for whom capital punishment is sought than their percentage of the general population would suggest is appropriate?

Why was the DOJ survey criticized?


What did its subsequent survey find?


In understanding racial disparities in capital sentencing, what is the more important factor: the defendant’s race or how the defendant’s race interacts with the victim’s race?


Are racial disparities found in the non-capital sentencing of minorities?

According the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (2000), how many times more likely is it for a Black youth to go to jail for a drug crime than a White youth?


What is the similarity-leniency effect?


How does gender affect sentencing?

What is the chivalry theory?


What is the evil woman theory?


Chapter’s Lesson

Why might attorneys offer information to a court that would be ruled irrelevant?


Why might a court admit evidence to trial that it subsequently holds is irrelevant to the legal issue?


Why might the Supreme Court refusal to admit McCleskey’s study at trial be seen as unjust?



Last Updated on April 26, 2019

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