Racial Underrepresentation and Discrimination in Jury Decisions

A Duke University press release recently described a major research study of racial disparity and likely racial bias/discrimination in jury decisions involving black and white defendants in two Florida counties:

Juries formed from all-white jury pools in Florida convicted black defendants 16 percent more often than white defendants, a gap that was nearly eliminated when at least one member of the jury pool was black, according to a Duke University-led study. The researchers examined more than 700 non-capital felony criminal cases in Sarasota and Lake counties from 2000-2010 and looked at the effects of the age, race and gender of jury pools on conviction rates.

There is a nice graphic of the Duke research results here.

The lead researcher, Patrick Bayer, the chair of Duke’s Economics Department (You can view a youtube interview with Bayer here.), has pointed out the U.S. Constitution’s 6th amendment officially imbeds the idea of a “right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury of our peers,” which is “a bedrock of the criminal justice system in the U.S.”

At least in constitutional words and theory that is. In fact, as this study suggests, the “justice” system’s practices periodically follow the path of individual and institutionalized racism rather than the path of a trial by a fair and impartial jury of one’s peers. In these Florida counties 40 percent of the jury pools had no black members, and most of the other pools had only one or two. And there is much other recent evidence of systemic racism in our criminal “justice” system as well, as we have previously discussed here.

For centuries, a great many African Americans have not gotten the benefit of this 6th amendment’s grand and egalitarian language. It is also interesting which amendments in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution get the most praise, publicity and attention these days in the United States. This is not one of them.