Resist cost cutting that makes jury pools small
Findings that the racial composition of a jury pool can have a "substantial impact" on the rate of conviction is troubling.
Authors of an academic paper that looked at two sets of data from two Florida counties (one set of data containing 5.5 years' worth of cases, the other 10 years') note that their conclusions "may not be representative of the effect of jury race in jurisdictions with higher fractions of blacks in the population."
Nonetheless, the results (summed up in the infographic below) still suggests 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," as the paper states.
It points to the fact that racial disparities continue to pervade the United States, despite the progress since the end of Jim Crow.
However, as a corrective for at least this manifestation of inequality, paper authors fortuitously recognize a problem--keep the size of the seated jury, and thus the jury pool--larger rather than smaller. There's been cost-savings trend in some civil and minor criminal courts to reduce the size of seated jurors to just six or eight individuals. However, larger jury pools are more likely to include minorities, and according to the study, that is enough to impact the equality of conviction rates.
In tough budgetary times, governments at all levels will have to make tough choices. We should recognize before asking them to make too much that cuts have consequences. Increased racial disparities in U.S. courts may be one of them. -Dave