Racial composition of jury pool has 'substantial impact' on conviction rates
When a jury pool is all white, a black defendant is more likely to be convicted, says a paper that examined multi-year evidence from two mostly-white Florida counties.
The paper (.pdf), by academics at Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University and Queen Mary, University of London (Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer and Randi Hjalmarsson, respectively), concludes that racial composition of the pool in general has a substantial impact on conviction rates.
In fact, defendants of each race do relatively better when a jury pool contains more members of their race, raising concerns about whether black defendants receive a fair trial in jurisdictions with a small proportion of blacks in the jury, the paper finds.
"Specifically, in cases with no blacks in the jury pool, black defendants are an 81 percent [conviction] rate and white defendants at a 66 percent rate. When the jury pool includes at least one black potential juror, conviction rates are almost identical: 71 percent for black defendants and 73 percent for white defendants," the paper states. The paper does note that its findings may not be representative of the effect of jury race in jurisdictions with higher fractions of blacks in the population.
The mechanism at work, the paper says, likely occurs during the voire dire, when members of the jury pool are struck. When a black potential juror is struck, that's one less challenge the prosecution has to strike a white juror with similar attitudes during the case--which is why the conviction rates differ not according to the racial composition or the jury itself, but of the pool.
In part to reduce court costs, many states now use smaller juries of six to eight individuals in civil and less serious criminal trials, the paper says, but its findings suggest that increasing the number of seated jurors would ensure greater equality for white and black defendants.
- download the paper, which was printed in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (.pdf)