NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Of Racism Among Jurors Yields Some Surprises

March 27, 2001

Juries are not necessarily racist, according to a study conducted in North Carolina. White jurors did not stick up for white defendants, nor black jurors for blacks. But the color of the prosecution team seemed to have some impact.

The study used black and white actors playing defendants in videotaped mock vandalism trials. The mock cases were designed to be close calls factually. Vandalism was chosen as the charge since it does not evoke racial stereotypes and is not an emotionally-charged crime.

  • The experiments demonstrated that white and black jurors usually act the same -- and when they did take the race of the defendant into account, they were sympathetic.
  • Because of jurors' concerns about racism, all-white prosecution teams may actually help black defendants.
  • When the prosecutor and the prosecution witnesses were white, the black defendant was convicted substantially less often -- 35 percent of the time to the white defendant's 55 percent.
  • But when a black prosecution witness was substituted, jurors decided the defendant, whether black or white, was guilty some 56 percent of the time.

Another surprising result of the study was that the apparent wealth of the defendants and their families had no discernable effect on the verdicts.

The study, reported in the Wisconsin Law Review, was conducted by law professors John Conley and Bill Turnier, both of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Chicago psychologist Mary Rose.

Source: Matthew Eisley (Raleigh News and Observer), "Study Finds Jurors Not Racist, But Color Can Affect Verdicts," Washington Times, March 27, 2001.

 

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