STUDIES: Racial Composition of Jury Pool Strongly Affects Probability of Convicting Black Defendants

A new study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the racial composition of jury pools has a profound effect on the probability of a black defendant being convicted. According to the study led by Professor Patrick Bayer of Duke, juries formed from all-white jury pools in Florida convicted black defendants 16 percent more often than white defendants. In cases with no black potential jurors in the jury pool, black defendants were convicted 81 percent of the time, while white defendants were convicted 66 percent of the time. When at least one member of the jury pool was black, the conviction rates for white (73%) and black (71%) defendants were nearly identical. Professor Bayer commented, “I think this is the first strong and convincing evidence that the racial composition of the jury pool actually has a major effect on trial outcomes… Simply put, the luck of the draw on the racial composition of the jury pool has a lot to do with whether someone is convicted and that raises obvious concerns about the fairness of our criminal justice system.” The study examined over 700 non-capital felony cases in Sarasota and Lake counties in Florida and was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Watch a video interview with Professor Bayer.

(S. Hartsoe, “Study: All-White Jury Pools Convict Black Defendants 16 Percent More Often Than Whites,” Duke Today, April 17, 2012; posted May 7, 2012; “The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials,” senior author Patrick Bayer, Duke University; Shamena Anwar, Carnegie Mellon University; Randi Hjalmarsson, Queen Mary, University of London. Quarterly Journal of Economics, online April 17, 2012, print in May 2012; DOI number 0.1093/QJE/QJS014).

In April in North Carolina, a Superior Court judge issued a ruling in the first case under the state’s Racial Justice Act, finding evidence of intentional bias by the state in selecting juries for death penalty cases. The court held that “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors” at the time of the defendant’s trial. Lawyers had presented findings from a study conducted at Michigan State University that concluded that qualified black jurors in North Carolina were struck from juries at more than twice the rate of qualified white jurors in the state’s 173 capital cases between 1990-2010. The judge said that the disparity was strong enough “to support an inference of intentional discrimination.” The defendant ’s death sentence was reduced to life without parole. See Race. Read more studies on the death penalty. Listen to DPIC’s podcast on Race.