Book Review: Capital Punishment and Latino Offenders: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Death Sentences

Date01 September 2005
Published date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Capital Punishment and Latino Offenders: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Death Sen-
tences, By Martin G. Urbina. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2003. pp. xiii, 286.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016805284508
Is justice really blind? Numerous scholars in diverse disciplines have tried to ascertain
if this is so, particularly as it relates to life or death sentencing in capital murder cases.
Martin G. Urbina continues this line of inquiry and adds new insight into the debate by
disaggregating the category of Latino defendants charged with a capital crime in his investi-
gation of the death sentence outcomes (who actually gets executed) of African Americans,
Caucasians, and Latinos, specifically Cubans and Mexicans, from 1975 to 1995 in Califor-
nia, Florida, and Texas.His premise for this study is derived from a four-threat theory (politi-
cal, social, racial, and economic) perspective, from which he conjectures that the majority
ruling racial group (at this time, Caucasians) controls through various discriminatory prac-
tices the outcomes for threatening minorities as well as disposable Caucasians. Therefore, he
predicts minorities are more likely to be executed and less likely to receive a commutation
than Caucasians.
In chapter 2, the author provides a brief overview of normative, stratification, dessert,
Marxist, and conflict theories to inform the reader of the strengths and limitations of these
approaches as they relate to the experiences of minorities, operations in the judicial system,
and sentencing decisions. Urbina then narrows his discussion to focus on the work of several
theorists who support the position that threat to the dominating class or group influences sen-
tencing decisions for minorities. These theorists provide the conceptual foundation for the
four-threat theory from which Urbina not only forms the objectives of his study but also
derives a 21-point list of factors that when in place, individually or in groupings, support his
contention that minorities are treated differently with regard to capital sentencing.
Chapter 3 provides useful matrices of prior research on death sentence outcomes and race
and ethnicity findings, with notations of their limitations. The author leads the reader to the
conclusion that based on prior research, the imposition of the death penalty is capricious;
race and ethnicity of the defendant cannot be ruled out as an influence in sentencing deci-
sions, even in the era after Furman v. Georgia.
Chapter 4 reviews historical issues that continue to influence race relations and the crimi-
nal justice system in the United States. Although the African American experience has domi-
nated previous literature, Urbina provides specific details on the contrasting experience of
Mexicans and Cubans in the United States, focusing on their distinct historical differences in
immigration and acculturation because of their perceived threat levelto the majority group.
The details of Urbina’s study are provided in chapter 5. His analysis involves individuals
who were either executed or otherwise removed from death row through having their sen-
tence commuted or conviction or sentence overturned, with a focus on the specific experi-
ences of Latinos, African Americans, and Caucasians. The author discusses at length his
choice of independent variables and relates these back to the theoretical positions presented
earlier in the book. Some readers may be disappointed that analyses are not included to ascer-
tain how Latino ethnicity figures into death sentencing but is restricted only to the fates of
those receiving a death sentence. In fairness, Urbina acknowledges this as a limitation of his
study and suggests that other researchers may wish to pursue this question, one more com-
plex than the study he undertakes.
Book Reviews 243

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