Issues such as the race of the victim, the geography of the crime, and the wealth of the offender can all be extremely influential in whether the defender receives life imprisonment or a sentence of death.
A study on the death penalty in Ohio found that murderers are 3.8 times more likely to receive a death sentence if their victim was white than if their victim was black.
Studies done in North Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania have all found similar race-related disparities.
The Ohio study of the death penalty found that those who murder in Hamilton County (the location of Cincinnati) are 6.2 times more likely to receive the death penalty than those who murder in Franklin County (the location of Columbus).
Similar studies have found that the local politics of the crime scene is also influential, in that areas that are strongly Republican are much more likely to hand down sentences of death than those that are strongly Democratic.
For more information on the impact of geography on death sentences, click here
In cases in South Dakota, great arbitrariness can also be seen. Elijah Page, who was executed in 2007, and Briley Piper, who until recently was on death row, were both sentenced to death for the same crime: the torturing and killing of Chester Allan Poage. Both of these individuals pleaded guilty at trial and both of them were sentenced to death by the same judge. Darrell Hoadley was also charged with that same crime. However, he pleaded innocent. He was convicted of the same charges as Page and Piper, and found to have the same aggravating circumstances against him, but he was sentenced by a jury, which decided to give him life imprisonment