COLUMBUS, Ohio - An Ohio Supreme Court committee studying the state's capital punishment law planned to vote Thursday on recommendations requiring the collection of data to detect racial bias in death penalty cases.
The data would include a review of past cases as well as collecting information in the future on all homicides that might be eligible for capital punishment.
Other recommendations would require prosecutors, lawyers and judges involved in death penalty cases to be trained to protect against racial bias.
Among precedents cited in the Race and Ethnicity subcommittee recommendations is a 2005 Associated Press study that found that Ohio offenders who killed white victims were more likely to face a death sentence than those whose victims were black.
Numerous other studies of capital punishment laws around the country have also found that death penalty charges are more likely when a victim is white than a minority.
Another recommendation before the Ohio task force would require the creation of jury instructions involving race in death penalty cases and would also require jurors to report racial discrimination voiced by other jurors during deliberations.
In addition, lawyers would have to seek the removal of any judge where "a reasonable basis for concluding that the judge's decision making could be affected by racially discriminatory factors," according to documents prepared ahead of Thursday's meeting.
In 2009, North Carolina enacted its Racial Justice Act, directing judges to reduce a death-row inmate's sentence to life in prison if they find race was a significant factor in a convicted murderer receiving a death sentence or in the composition of jurors hearing a case.
Lawmakers this month approved a scaled-back version of the law that death penalty supporters say will rely less on statistics they call misleading. They also say it will untie a log jam over the carrying out of executions in North Carolina, where the state last put someone to death in 2006.
Kentucky has a similar law, the nation's first, but it has never been used in court.
The recommendations the Ohio task force is considering would not create a similar law.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor convened the task force while making it clear it won't debate whether the state should have the death penalty.
The committee of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and death penalty experts are looking at a variety of issues, from how the law affects minorities to the role of clemency.
The committee is also studying whether Ohio's death sentences are proportional, meaning that the nature of a crime committed by one condemned inmate is similar to the crimes committed by others.
O'Connor says the committee's goal is to produce a fair, impartial and balanced analysis of the state's 30-year-old law.
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