Study may show racial makeup of jury affects outcome

April 27, 2012
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Researchers led by Duke University examined the jury pools of two Florida counties over a 10-year period and found that all-white juries convicted black defendants nearly 16 percent more often than white defendants.

When there was at least one black member of the jury, that gap was nearly eliminated.

The researches used the two Florida counties because those counties had detailed statistical information about jury compositions available. They looked at data from 2000 to 2010 from noncapital felony criminal cases and studied the effects of age, race and gender of jury pools on conviction rates. Their article focuses on the racial aspect of juries.

Where there were no black jurors, black defendants were convicted 81 percent of the time; white defendants were convicted 66 percent of the time.

When there was at least one black juror, conviction rates for black defendants were 71 percent and 73 percent for white defendants. When blacks were in the jury pool, they were slightly more likely to be seated on a jury than whites. About 40 percent of the jury pools examined had no black members.

“The crossing pattern exhibited by our main findings thus leads to our final conclusion: that jurors of at least one race (and possibly both) either interpret evidence differently depending on the race of the defendant or use a standard of evidence that varies with the race of the defendant. Either possibility implies that the interaction of defendant and jury race fundamentally alters the mapping of evidence to conviction rates and, thus, that the impact of the racial composition of the jury pool (and seated jury) is a factor that merits much more attention and analysis to ensure the fairness of the criminal justice system,” the article states.

The study was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and conducted in part by staff in Duke’s economics department and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Queen Mary, University of London.

You can view the study online.
 

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