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Criminal Justice, Race

Impact of jury race and selection on verdicts in criminal trials

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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

    Writer: | Last updated: May 9, 2012

    Citation: Anwar, Shamena; Bayer, Patrick; Hjalmarsson, Randi. "The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2012, doi: 10.1093/qje/qjs014.

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    Media analysis

    Read the study-related South Florida Times article titled "All-White Juries Shown to Convict Blacks More ."

    1. What key insights from the study and article should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to jury deliberations and court outcomes?

    Study analysis

    Read the full study titled "Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials."

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?