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A descriptive profile of Mexican American executions in the Southwest.

More than two decades ago, after an exhaustive study of criminal justice agencies and the Mexican American population in the U.S. Southwest, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1970) concluded: "This report paints a bleak picture of the relationship between Mexican Americans in the Southwest and the agencies which administer justice in those states... . There is evidence of police misconduct against Mexican Americans" (p. 87). Accordingly, Grebler et al. (1970) in their groundbreaking study of the Mexican American population in the United States noted the persistence of a racist perception of Mexican Americans in the Los Angeles police department vis-a-vis comments made by the police chief regarding Mexican Americans and criminal activity: "it's because of some of these people being not too far removed from the wild tribes of the district of the inner mountains of Mexico. I don't think you can throw the genes out of the question when you discuss behavior patterns of people" (p. 530). Since the publication of these two studies a substantial body of documentation has accumulated suggesting that Mexican Americans have been, and continue to be, oppressed by the criminal justice system in the United States (Bondavalli & Bondavalli, 1980; Garza, 1973; Mirande, 1987; Morales, 1972; Romero & Stelzner, 1985; Trujillo, 1974).

One illustration of the relationship between Mexican Americans and the criminal justice system in the Southwest is their representativeness within the criminal justice system. Representativeness is used by researchers as a means of determining the extent to which a minority population (nonwhite) is over-represented in the criminal justice system relative to its numerical size in the general population (Gross & Mauro, 1984; Baldus et al., 1983; Kleck, 1981). In addition, the over-representation of a population permits researchers to examine the operation of extra-legal factors, such as biased attitudes and perceptions, in the population's processing by the criminal justice system (Aguirre & Baker, 1990; Gross & Mauro, 1989). For the purpose of illustration, we have summarized select criminal justice statistics in Table 1 for the Mexican American population in the Southwest. One can make the general observation from Table 1 that the Mexican American population in the Southwest is disproportionately represented in select criminal justice categories. An exception is found in Texas where Mexican Americans are not disproportionately represented as state and federal prisoners. One can also observe in Table 1 that the greatest amount of disparity is found in New Mexico, and that the least amount of disparity is found in Texas. While it is not our intent in this article to examine the disproportionate representation of the Mexican American population in the criminal justice system, we note that the research literature has observed that the Mexican American population is over-represented in the criminal justice system as a result of such extra-legal factors as ethnic identity, socioeconomic status, and English language use, (Aguirre & Baker, 1988, 1989, 1994; Bondavalli & Bondavalli, 1980; Chang & Araujo, 1975; Holmes & Daudistel, 1984).

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED]

In general, one can make observations regarding the treatment of Mexican Americans by the criminal justice system and their representation within the criminal justice system. However, one is limited in making observations regarding other features of the relationship between the Mexican American population and the criminal justice system. Gomez-Quinones (1994), for example, notes that the study of Mexican Americans as members of law enforcement agencies, especially police departments, has been ignored. Accordingly, Aguirre and Baker (1989) have noted that the institutional analysis of Mexican Americans in the criminal justice system has focused very little attention on the study of executed Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest. These then are two features of the relationship between Mexican Americans and the criminal justice system that have attracted little attention.

Our purpose in this article then is to enhance one's understanding regarding one of these two features by constructing a descriptive profile for Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. On the one hand, the construction of a descriptive profile for executed Mexican American prisoners is necessary for observing the institutional interaction of Mexican Americans across all dimensions of the U.S. criminal justice system. On the other hand, the construction of a descriptive profile addresses an observation made by Romero and Stelzner (1985) that Mexican Americans are nonexistent in the study of prisoners and executions because the analysis of executions has been limited to black-white differences. Thus, the construction of a descriptive profile for Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest fills in a gap regarding the relationship between the Mexican American population and the criminal justice system.

MEXICAN AMERICAN EXECUTIONS IN THE SOUTHWEST

There are several major data sources on executions in the United States (Aguirre & Baker, 1994). The Espy File, however, is the most comprehensive list of confirmed executions in the United States (Schneider & Smykla, 1991). In May 1970, M. Watt Espy began collecting data on public executions from his home in Headland, Alabama. Espy's data collection project was moved to the University of Alabama Law Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1977 under the directorship of John Ortiz Smykla and the Inter-University Consortium of Political and Social Research. Since then the University of Alabama has continued the documentation of new cases, amending cases already confirmed, and computerization of the data.

The Espy File contains information on 14,570 executions conducted under civil authority in the U.S. beginning with the first execution in the American colonies of Captain John Kendall in 1608. The inventory concludes with the electrocution of a 41-year old white man named Whitley for rape-murder in Virginia on July 6, 1987. The Espy File contains information on the individual prisoners executed and the circumstances surrounding the crime for which the prisoner was executed. The data identify the name, race, age, sex, and occupation of the offender, as well as the date, place, jurisdiction, crime, and method of execution. The Espy File consists of information on executions collected from prison officials and state departments of corrections; contemporary newspaper coverage of crimes, trials, and executions; actual court records of trials and various appeals; and through contacts with local historians, historical societies, museums, archives, and county clerks.

According to the Espy File, 301 Hispanic prisoners were executed in the United States from as early as 1783, to the close of the inventory in July 1987. The majority of the executions (81.1%) took place in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas). The Espy File, however, does not specify how prisoners were identified as Hispanic in the enumeration process. We have discussed in previous work the conceptual limitations that arise when Spanish-language use or Spanish surname are utilized as the primary basis of identification in the enumeration process used to gather criminal justice statistics on Hispanics (Aguirre & Baker, 1988). Some of the conceptual limitations that arise are the exclusion of Hispanics that do not speak Spanish or do not have a Spanish surname (for other examples see: Aguirre, 1982, 1984; Artiz, 1986; Berkanovic, 1980; de la Puente, 1993; Kirkmanliff & Mondragon, 1991; Macias, 1993).

For our purpose in this article we cross-referenced the prisoners identified by race as "Hispanic" in the Espy File with the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) compilation of Spanish surnames. We have utilized this approach in previous research as a means of identifying Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest (Aguirre & Baker, 1989). As a result of the cross-referencing, our sample of 244 Mexican American prisoners is limited to those with a Spanish surname and whose race is identified as "Hispanic" in the Espy File. In addition, we have made the meta-theoretical assumption regarding our sample that given the fact that over 65% of the Mexican American population in the United States has resided, and continues to reside, in the Southwest one can assume with a certain degree of confidence that the majority of "Hispanics" executed in the Southwest are Mexican American (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991a, 1991b).

A DESCRIPTIVE PROFILE OF EXECUTED MEXICAN AMERICAN PRISONERS

Capital punishment has a long history in the Southwest. Deaths by hanging, firing squad, lethal gas, and electrocution are methods of execution that have been used in the Southwest. In her memoirs of life in early 1800s California, for example, Angustias de la Guerra Ord (1878) observed that lashing was often used as punishment with Mexican prisoners. From 1910 to 1916, and from 1918 to 1932, Arizona used hanging as the method of execution. Over the thirty-year period from 1933 to 1963, Arizona executed capital offenders using lethal gas. California hanged prisoners executed of capital crimes until 1937. Then, in August of that year, the gas chamber was relocated to San Quentin Prison and legal gas was adopted as the official means of execution. Colorado hanged prisoners from 1890 to 1934, but eventually adopted lethal gas. New Mexico is the only southwestern state that used electrocution from 1933 to 1956 to put captal offenders to death. In 1960, however, New Mexico began using lethal gas. On June 19, 1969, New Mexico officially abolished the death penalty except for prisoners convicted of killing police officers or for prisoners convicted of multiple murders. Presently, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas use lethal injection to execute prisoners. [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED] Arizona and California still use lethal gas. California, however, may soon adopt lethal injection as its official method of execution since death by lethal gas is being challenged in the courts as a cruel form of punishment.

Table 2 is a summary of the total number of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest by state and decade from 1795 to 1987. Our list comprises the number of Mexican American prisoners executed under state, federal, military, and territorial authority. There were no Mexican American prisoners executed in the United States under local authority during this period. In Table 2 we identify four distinct developmental periods in the history of Mexican American executions in the Southwest. A "growth" period begins on January 10, 1795 with the execution of a prisoner surnamed Rochine by firing squad under military authority for murder in the territorial region of California. We have labeled this period "growth" because the number of Mexican American prisoners executed over this period progressively increases. The "growth" period ended with the hanging of a prisoner surnamed Juarez for murder in California on May 10, 1867. There was a total of 49 Mexican Americans executed during this period. The total accounts for 20.1% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest.

In Table 2 we identify a period of "stability" in Mexican American executions in the Southwest from the 1880s through the 1930s. We refer to this execution phase as "stability" because the number of Mexican American executions is stable throughout the period. The hanging of a 17 year old prisoner surnamed Domingues for murder in Arizona on November 26, 1880, ushured in the "stability" period; and the electrocution of a 24 year old farmhand surnamed Salazar for murder in Texas on December 16, 1939, brought an end to the "stability" period. During this period there were 159 Mexican American executions, accounting for 65.1% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest.

Except for the peak decade of the 1910s when 31 Mexican American prisoners were executed, there were about 26 Mexican American prisoners executed per decade over this sixty year period. There were 24 Mexican American executions conducted per decade from the 1880s to the 1900s, increasing to thirty-one executions in the 1910s, decreasing to twenty-eight executions in the 1920s, and again increasing to twenty-nine executions in the 1930s. Texas executed 50 Mexican American prisoners from the 1880s through the 1930s. The number of Mexican American executions in Texas during this period accounts for 64.9% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in Texas. Arizona and New Mexico, however, executed the largest percentage of their total number of Mexican American prisoners during this period with 82.6% and 88.1% respectively.

The 1910s is a "peak" execution period for Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest. Thirty-one Mexican American prisoners were executed during this period. The 31 executions account for nearly 13% of the total number of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. About half of the Mexican American executions conducted during the 1910s occurred over a two-year period from 1915 to 1916. Of the 31 Mexican American prisoners executed during the 1910s, 28 were hanged for murder, 2 were hanged for rape-murder, and 1 was hanged for robbery-murder.

During the "peak" period in Mexican American executions, New Mexico hanged six Mexican bandits (designated occupation) on two separate days in June 1916. None of the ages of these bandits are known, but their surnames were Alvarez, Castillo, Garcia, Rangel, Renteria, and Sanchez. Five of the 31 Mexican American prisoners executed during the 1910s were conducted under the territorial jurisdiction of Arizona between 1910 and 1911. A boy surnamed Sanchez was the youngest Mexican American prisoner executed in this period (1910s). Sanchez was fifteen years old at the time of his hanging in Texas. His execution date was March 3, 1915, and his occupation was noted as "jail prisoner."

A period of "decline" in the number of Mexican American executions occurred from the 1940s to the 1980s. Over this fifty year period there were 36 Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. California and Texas conducted the most executions of Mexican Americans, seventeen and thirteen respectively. The number of executions performed during this period account for 14.8% of the total number of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest from 1795 to 1987. A prisoner surnamed Moreno was the last Mexican American executed in this period of "decline." Moreno died from lethal injection in Texas on March 4, 1987, for murder. He was a 27 year-old lawn mower repairman.

Taken together, Tables 3, 4, and 5 provide information on Mexican American executions conducted by each state in the Southwest. In Table 3 we have tabulated the year in which each state entered the union to determine the years in which Mexican American prisoners were executed under territorial authority rather than state authority. Table 3 shows that Arizona executed 29 Mexican American prisoners between 1873 [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 3 OMITTED] and 1963. A detailed analysis of the 29 executions shows that Arizona executed 14 Mexican American prisoners under territorial jurisdiction during the 39 year pre-state-hood period from 1873 to 1912. As a result, nearly half of all the executions of Mexican American prisoners in Arizona were conducted before it became a state and entered the union. Bowers (1974) reports that Arizona abolished the death penalty from 1916 to 1918. The Espy File data reveals, instead, that the period of abolition actually lasted from July 1916 to April 1920 for Mexican American prisoners. The abolition period began with the hanging of a 39 year old smelter surnamed Peralta for murder on July 7, 1916. Arizona ended its 33 month hiatus on state executions with the hanging of a 24 year old shepherd surnamed Torrez for murder on April 16, 1920. Arizona executed fifteen more Mexican American prisoners from 1921 to 1963.

By the time California entered the union in 1850, eleven Mexican American prisoners had been executed in the region. All of the executions were conducted under military jurisdiction and occurred between January 1795 and August 1847. Four of the Mexican American prisoners were executed for murder, three for robbery-murder, one for rape-murder, one for sodomy-buggery-bestiality, and two for theft-stealing. The ages of all but one, an eighteen year old, of these prisoners are unknown. Three of the Mexican American prisoners executed during this period were military personnel (soldiers) and one was a servant.

California executed another 71 Mexican American prisoners after it became a state. Two of these executions were conducted under federal authority. On July 1, 1890, a man surnamed Osequeda was hanged for an unknown crime. Osequeda's age and occupation are unknown. The other federal execution of a Mexican American prisoner in California occurred on December 10, 1948, for murder. His surname was Ochoa. Ochoa was twenty-nine years old, his occupation was "criminal", and he died in the gas chamber at San Quentin prison.

Figure 1 presents the percentages of Mexican American executions in the Southwest by state between 1795 and 1987. One can observe in Figure 1 that California and Texas account for most of the Mexican American executions in the Southwest. Taken together, the 82 Mexican American prisoners executed in California, and the 77 Mexican American prisoners executed in Texas, comprise over 65% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. The twenty-nine executions of Mexican American prisoners conducted in Arizona comprise about 12% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. New Mexico executed 42 Mexican American prisoners, which accounts for about 17% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. The 14 Mexican American prisoners executed in Colorado represent the smallest percentage, nearly 6%, of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest.

Figure 1 also shows that Mexican American executions constitute noticeable proportions of the total number of prisoners executed in Arizona and New Mexico between 1795 and 1987. Mexican American executions comprise nearly 30% of all prisoners executed in Arizona, and nearly 60% in New Mexico. Mexican American executions constitute about 12% of all prisoners executed in California, nearly 14% in Colorado, and about 10% in Texas.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EXECUTED MEXICAN AMERICAN PRISONERS

In Table 4 we present a summary of characteristics for executed Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest from 1795 to 1987. In terms of the criminal offenses for which Mexican American prisoners were executed in the Southwest, one can note in Table 4 that crimes involving murder comprise the category of offense for which nearly 94% of all Mexican American prisoners were executed. Rape and rape-robbery comprise the second category of crime for which Mexican Americans were executed. Nearly 3% of all Mexican American prisoners were executed for rape or rape-robbery. These figures are similar to the percentages of prisoners executed for similar crimes outside the Southwest. The Espy File, for example, shows that nearly 80% of all prisoners executed in the United States were executed for murder and crimes involving murder, and nearly 7% were executed for rape and crimes involving rape.

Method of Execution

In Table 4 one can note that hanging was the most frequent method of execution in the Southwest. About 71% of all Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest were hanged. Nearly 11% of Mexican American prisoners were executed using electrocution. These percentages are similar to the percentages found in the general population of executed prisoners in the United States. The Espy File shows, for example, [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 4 OMITTED] that hanging has been the method of execution used to execute about 64% of all prisoners in the United States. About 30% of the executed prisoners have been electrocuted. Other methods of execution not used in the Southwest but that prevailed in other parts of the country include pressing, breaking on the wheel, burning, hung in chains, bludgeoned, and gibbeted (Aguirre & Baker, 1991). According to the Espy File, these outrageous methods of execution were most often used with African slaves.

Gender

According to Table 4, three female Mexican American prisoners were executed in the Southwest between 1795 and 1987. The first Mexican American female prisoner was hanged in July 1851 in California for murder. Her name was listed as Juanita. Her age, occupation, and the day of execution are unknown. Ten years later, under the jurisdictional authority of the New Mexico territory, a woman named Angel was hanged for murder on April 26. Her age and occupation are unknown. The last Mexican American female prisoner executed in the Southwest was hanged on November 13, 1863, for robbery-murder. Her surname is listed as Rodriguez. Her age is unknown, but her occupation was listed as innkeeper. According to the Espy File, there were 357 female prisoners executed in the United States, accounting for 2.5% of all executed prisoners. Schneider and Smykla (1991) found that the majority (87%) of female prisoners executed in the United States occurred pursuant to local authority before 1866.

Jurisdiction

Jurisdictional authority is historically important in the administration of capital punishment in the United States. The transfer of execution authority from local to state jurisdictions was a fundamental movement in the imposition of the death penalty in the United States (Bowers, 1974). States began to require that executions be conducted under state authority with the introduction of the state prison system. Although the first state imposed execution occurred as early as 1853 in the District of Columbia, states did not begin to execute capital offenders routinely until the 1890s. Local executions decreased through the decades as state executions increased. For example, according to Bowers (1974) local executions decreased from 87% of all executions in the 1890s to no executions since the 1960s. In contrast, state executions increased from 13% of all executions in the 1890s to accounting for all executions in the 1960s.

Table 4 shows that nearly 79% of all Mexican American executions in the Southwest were administered pursuant to state authority. About 16% were territorial executions. Taken together, federal and military executions constitute about 6% of all Mexican American executions in the Southwest. There were no Mexican American prisoners executed under local, Indian Tribunal, or Courts of Admirality jurisdiction. These figures coincide with the percentages of jurisdictional authority over executions in the Espy File. For example, 87% of all executions in the United States from 1608 to 1987 were state executions. Military and Courts of Admirality executions comprised about 8% of the executions in the U.S., federal executions about 2%, and Indian Tribunal executions about 0.3%. There was one local execution conducted in Texas on September 25, 1951, of a White restaurant owner surnamed Mitchell.

Age

In Table 4 one can note the mean age at execution of Mexican American prisoners. With half of the information on the age of Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest missing, it is difficult to accurately determine the average age of executed prisoners. For those Mexican American prisoners whose age is known, the average age at the time of execution is 29.2 years. The mean age of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest is considerably lower than the mean age of all executed prisoners in the Espy File, 32.6 years.

Occupation

The Espy File identifies the occupation of prisoners executed in the United States at the time of their execution. We have tabulated occupational categories for executed Mexican American prisoners in Table 5. Table 5 shows that the occupation for half of [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 5 OMITTED] the Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest is unknown. For those prisoners whose occupation is known, Table 5 shows that most Mexican American prisoners are in the following categories: laborers not involved in farm production (16.8%), farm workers (12.3%), or criminals (11.5%). About 8% of the prisoners comprised other occupational categories.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Our purpose in this article has been to construct a descriptive profile of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest. We have created a sample of Mexican American prisoners executed in the Southwest from data available in the Espy File. We have noted in our discussion regarding sample construction that conceptual limitations arise from the use of either Spanish language use or Spanish surname as a principal means of ethnic identification. We suspect that the racial category of "Hispanic" was used in the Espy File as an inclusive category for persons from Mexico, Central and Latin America. In order to enhance the specificity of our sample identification to Mexican Americans, we cross-referenced Spanish surname with racial identity. In addition, given that the majority of the Mexican American population in the United States has resided and continues to reside in the Southwest, we gain a degree of confidence that our constructed sample consists primarily of Mexican Americans. No doubt constraints are still present in our constructed sample. However, it is a suitable approach to the construction of a sample from a secondary data source.

The descriptive profile we have constructed in this article also addresses the lack of documentation regarding the execution of Mexican American prisoners. We have noted in this article that researchers have suggested that the study of executed Mexican American prisoners has been ignored because the criminological literature focuses on black-white racial differences (Holmes & Daudistel, 1984; Romero & Stelzner, 1985). The descriptive profile we have constructed thus augments the research record regarding Mexican American executions. In particular, the descriptive profile documents the existence of Mexican American executions as a social fact in the Southwest.

Finally, the descriptive profile we have constructed in this article is a valuable tool for addressing other research questions. One can ask whether the execution of Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest is associated with socioeconomic factors similar to the execution of Blacks in the South (Aguirre & Baker, 1991). For example, is the flow of Mexican immigrants into the Southwest and the demand for low wage labor in the Southwest associated with temporal periods in the execution of Mexican American prisoners? Are there extra-legal factors associated with the execution of Mexican American prisoners in the Southwest? In a preliminary analysis of execution data in the Southwest, for example, Aguirre and Baker (1989) have noted that executed Mexican American prisoners had a lower rate of appeal than either black or white prisoners. They have suggested that the lower rate of appeal for Mexican American prisoners may reflect the operation of an extra-legal factor, limited ability to communicate in English with the criminal justice system. The descriptive profile constructed in this paper thus opens a window for asking questions that increase our understanding of Mexican Americans and their interaction with the criminal justice system.

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Author:Aguirre, Adalberto, Jr.; Baker, David V.
Publication:The Social Science Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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