Expert Commentary

Impact of jury race and selection on verdicts in criminal trials

2012 study by Duke University published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics on the racial composition of a jury and criminal court outcomes.

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused a speedy and fair trial by an impartial jury, but this ideal is not always matched by the reality.

A 2012 study from Duke University published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, “The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials,” investigated the effect of jury selection and racial composition on trial outcomes. The researchers analyzed the age, race and gender of the 27 potential jurors and the six to seven seated jury members from 785 felony trials in two Florida counties between 2000 and 2010. Forty-four percent of the defendants were black; the average defendant had three charges pending.

The study’s findings include:

  • Black defendants (81%) were significantly more likely than whites (66%) to be convicted of at least one crime when there were no potential black jurors in the jury pool.
  • As the number of blacks in the pool increased, the disparity between black and white conviction rates narrowed. Even with only one black member in the jury pool, conviction rates were almost identical (71% for blacks and 73% for whites).
  • While 64% of cases had at least one black potential juror in the pool, only 28% of all trials had one or more black members on the seated jury. Once a black juror is seated, “black and white jurors … are less likely to convict than the set of white jurors they replace on the seated jury.”
  • When the jury pool contains at least one black potential juror, conviction rates for black (71%) and white (73%) defendants were nearly identical. Researchers attribute this to the jury selection process: “Whenever attorneys use peremptory challenges to strike black members of the pool … they forgo the possibility of excluding another potential juror with a similar ex ante probability of convicting,” and the composition of the jury indirectly reflects that of the juror pool.
  • An earlier study cited in the paper found that “racially mixed mock juries, compared to all-white juries, tended to deliberate longer, discuss more case facts, raise more questions about what was missing from the trials, and be more likely to discuss race issues, such as profiling, during deliberations.”

The authors note that “conviction rates for black and white defendants are similar when there is at least some representation of blacks in the jury pool, but in the absence of such representation, black defendants are substantially more likely to be convicted…. Black defendants are clearly disadvantaged relative to their white counterparts when the proportion of blacks in the jury pool is so small.”

Tags: African-American, race, law, civil rights

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