A study by Samuel Sommers and Phoebe Ellsworth (2001) concluded, white jury’s’ demonstrated racial bias against defendants even when race was not the preeminent focus. The research found that “when race is a key issue, societal expectations are elicited and jurors heed popular egalitarian ideals. Yet when the “race card” is not played, whites are more susceptible to making prejudiced decisions.” In other words, non-diverse white jury’s convict African American, Hispanic, and other ethnic minority defendants at a greater rate than white defendants for similar crimes. Contrarily, some studies have indicated that a defendant’s race has no consistent affect on white jurors (e.g. Mc Guire & Berman, 1977; Skolnick & Shaw, 1997), and a handful of studies have found that white jurors are actually harsher towards same-race defendants than out-group defendants are (e.g. Mc Gowen & King, 1982: Poulson, 1990).
In actuality, the supremacy of studies substantiates the legal system is biased against minorities (Jones 2000) and the poor. A 94-page study found that “minorities in the United States face discriminatory treatment at every stage of the judicial process, from arrest to incarceration” (Jones 2000). The first words Officer Darren Wilson ever spoke to Mike Brown before he killed him were “Get the fuck up on the sidewalk” (Halperin 2015). The myriad of You Tube videos aside, I doubt those type of exchanges are commonplace but the path to the jury begins with the first encounter with a police officer and there is a different approach used for different people. The sex, age, income, and degree of neighborhood disadvantage of suspects were also useful predictors of police reaction toward suspects (Mastrofski 2002).
The jury selection process and eventual verdict is simply part of the justice system or “just-us” system as some refer to it. African Americans are systematically excluded from jury’s to increase the probability of guilty verdicts for the prosecution. When jury’s are rigged, white jurists are typically non-empathetic toward minorities and racially prejudiced against minority defendants. This practice is not uncommon in the U.S. and is most common in the southern states. During a two year study by the Equal Justice Institute, it found Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee were the most egregious offenders of unfairness in the prosecutorial phase. In the south, some district attorney’s offices explicitly trained prosecutors to exclude racial minorities from jury service and taught them how to mask racial bias to avoid a finding that anti-discrimination laws had been violated (EJI 2005). Moreover, prosecutors in Dallas, Texas, maintained a decades-long policy of systematically excluding African Americans from jury service and codified it in a training manual. Similar efforts to avoid detection while excluding people because of race have continued in many jurisdictions, resulting in the ongoing underrepresentation of people of color on juries. Another example is that prosecutors in Houston and Alabama routinely removed 80 percent of the qualified African Americans for jury service (Stevenson 2010).
One method to rectify the situation is to require or mandate (because nothing will be done if voluntary) a better representative of community members on juries. A jury should reflect the makeup of the citizens of that community. Recently Judge Olu Stevenson of Louisville Kentucky, dismissed an entire jury because the lack of black jurors. In this case, the defendant was black, the trial was in an overwhelmingly black district but the prosecutor had removed all eligible black jurors leaving only whites on the jury. The judges concern was that the panel was not representative of the community therefore; the defendant could not get a fair trial. Of course, the backlash was immediate. The common wealth prosecutor, Tom Wine, requested the higher court remove judge Stevenson from all criminal cases. The Tom Wise request was denied.
Apart from the Judge Stevenson stand for more inclusive juries, the Equal Justice Institute proposed several changes to the judiciary. For instant, “prosecutors who repeatedly exclude people of color should be subject to fines, penalties, suspension, and other consequences to deter the practice. Community groups can hold their district attorneys accountable through court monitoring, requesting regular reporting on the use of peremptory strikes, and their voting power” (EJI 2005) to name just two.
The results from racially diverse jury’s are more thorough and competent than homogeneous groups (Sommers 2006). According to a 2006 study, “ethnically diverse jury’s’ made fewer inaccurate statements about the case than their peers in the all-white groups” (Sommers 2006). The diverse group took longer to decide a case and did not dismiss race as a component to their deliberations. Without much cogitation, all white juries have consistently lowered the threshold to reach a conviction on all defendants but especially minority defendants. To benefit all the citizens of the US it is imperative changes be made to lessen the overall burden on society.
Halpern Jack, “The Cop: Darren Wilson was not indicted for shooting Michael Brown. Many people question whether justice was done” www.newyorker.com. (August 2015) http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/the-cop
Jones Shannon. “Study finds widespread racial bias in US criminal justice system” www. wsws.org (May 2000) http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/05/bias-m16.html
McGowen, R., & King, G. D. (1982). Effects of authoritarian, anti-authoritarian, and egalitarian legal attitudes on mock juror and jury decisions. Psychological Reports, 51, 1067-1074.
McGuire, M. V., & Bermant, G. (1977). Individual and group decisions in response to a mock trial: A methodological note. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 7, 220-226
(n.a.) “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy” www.eji.org http://www.eji.org/raceandpoverty/juryselection” (Accessed Feb 28 2016)
NPR Staff. “Study: Blacks Routinely Excluded From Juries” www.npr.org (June 2010) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127969511 (accessed 2-28-16)
O’Conner. E. Study results show white jurors still demonstrate racial bias. (2001) American Psychological Association, Vol 32, No. 3. (Accessed Feb 28 2016)
Stephen D. Mastrofski; Michael D. Reisig ; John D. McCluskey. Police Disrespect Toward the Public: An Encounter-Based Analysis. Criminology Volume: 40 Issue: 3 Pages: 519 to 552 (August 2002)
Stevenson Bryan. Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy American Bar Association Vol. 37 No. 4 (Accessed Feb 28 2016)
Sommers, S. R. PhD., Kim “On Racial Diversity and Group Decision-Making: Identifying Multiple Effects of Racial Composition on Jury Deliberations,” Samuel R. Sommers, Tufts University; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 90, No.4. (April 1, 2006