High Profile Criminals: Andrea Yates

In the Andrea Yates case, the defendant had been accused of allegedly drowning her children to death. At trial, she claimed the defense of insane delusion, that is, that she was under God’s instruction to have the children killed. She was subsequently convicted of murder though the jury reduced this decision to life sentence.

The offender’s gender was female, and her race was White. She was 37 years at the time she committed the offense.  According to Steffensmeier, Ulmer, and Kramer (1998), age, gender, and race as social statuses play a significant role in determining sentencing outcomes in the American criminal justice system through their intersection. According to these authors, however, there are inconsistent findings by different literature on the impacts of the race on criminal trials. Some authors suggest that black offenders more often receive harsher penalties than Whites while other show insignificant effects that racial consideration have on criminal trials. However, their findings show that “the influence of age on sentence severity is contingent on the defendant’s gender and, to a lesser extent, race” (Steffensmeier, Ulmer & Kramer, 1998, p. 23). Also, their study shows that racial sentencing varies based on context and that only younger black defendants do get harsh sentences while among old defendants, the severity of penalties is the same for both Whites and Blacks. Males tend to receive more severe sentences than females.

According to a study by Franklin (2010),  most criminal prosecutions seem to target young black males and this category of offenders tend to receive more punitive sentences. The study also found out that cases involving white offenders who are aged 30-39 years would proceed to trial.  This study shows that race matters in such criminal cases and that judge tend to have less discretion in the sentencing of high profile cases involving felony charges than they do for misdemeanors.  Moreover, Doerner and Demuth (2009) found out that Blacks, Hispanics, males and young defendants tend to have harsher sentences imposed on them in US Federal Courts than female white and older offenders.

Applying this literature to Andrea Yate’s case, there seems to be certain consistencies and inconsistencies between this offender’s correlates of crime and the findings of research materials.  The consistency is that her race might have influenced the jury to reduce her sentence from death by lethal injection to life with the option of parole by 2041. Additionally, her age might also have influenced these outcomes since, had she, for instance, been a young Black American; her death sentence would have stood since the court had determined that her defense of insanity could not hold.  Mental state as a correlate of crime also affected the outcome of her case to some extent.  The inconsistency arises from the fact that despite her race, the judges still sentenced her to death before this was changed by the jury.


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