Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

That might depend on your race. New research (ungated version here) from Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer, and Randi Hjalmarsson uses data from criminal trials and finds “strong evidence that all-white juries acquit whites more often and are less favorable to black versus white defendants when compared to juries with at least one black member.” While perhaps not shocking, their research has meaningful implications: “Our findings speak to the substantial impact that variation in the composition of the jury pool can have on trial outcomes. If, for example, the jury pool in Sarasota County was 10 or 20 percent black instead of the 3 percent observed in the data, conviction rates for black defendants would be much lower and those for white defendants much higher than those observed in the data.”? [%comments]

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COMMENTS: 20


  1. frankenduf says:

    another reason the death penalty should be banned

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  2. Kevin says:

    what is the false conviction rates of all white juries vs. non-all white juries? does it matter if an all white jury convicts more often if those aren’t false convictions? or do non-all white juries give false acquittals more often?

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  3. Brett says:

    Kevin raises a good question, but unfortunately one that is impossible to answer.

    There’s an interesting concept at work here though… without data which is impossible to obtain (particularly the issue raised by Kevin), the charge of racism is being leveled towards jury members – or at least racism is being implied. Unfortunately, this is happening without a ‘trial’ and so the jury members are not being afforded the same “innocent until proven guilty” standard that is being studied herein.

    Hypocrisy among scientists/pollsters…. nah, that would never happen.

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  4. Mantonat says:

    Just another piece of evidence to prove that our justice system has very little to do with justice. Race is only one of the many forms of bias that juries can evince that lead them to a conclusion of guilt or innocence for reasons other than actual guilt or innocence.

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  5. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    Over a Decade since the OJ Simpson murder trial.

    Ask a White person: 95% says OJ was guilty.
    Ask a Black person: 95% says OJ was innocent.

    I say it is one of the Great Mysteries of the Universe–like Schrodinger’s Cat, JFK Assassination, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and the Proof of God.

    …. It impossible to know with certainty. Not even OJ knows!

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  6. kip says:

    If 95% of black people still really believe OJ was innocent (and I doubt it’s that high), it is due to either racism or ignorance of the case details. You couldn’t ask for a much clearer case. The only reason he was acquitted then was because DNA evidence was still new and the defense managed to get the jury to doubt its reliability. I don’t think he’d have a chance if the same evidence were presented against him today.

    If we’re going to call it racist when white juries acquit white defendants, we should at least apply the same judgment to black juries acquitting black defendants. To do otherwise would be racist.

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  7. John Ellis says:

    FYI, via Marginal Revolution blog, there is this on black vs white attitudes http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post?id=19964

    Can anyone provide a quick summary as to whether the race correlation is causative or simply a proxy of other things, like social class, type of crime, quality of evidence or willingess of witnesses to testify?

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  8. Dave says:

    … and your gender also matters. See, e.g., this study which argues that men face a problem of a similar degree as the racial bias which the original post notes.

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  9. Travis says:

    The premise raised is that adding more blacks to a jury will end up in fewer blacks convicted and more whites convicted. The obvious question is whether this is a good thing. The implication being made is that white people are racist and black people are not. However, the data would come out exactly the same if the reverse were true. The result we should be aiming for is more _guilty_ people going to jail and fewer _innocent_ ones, not more white people going to jail and fewer black ones.

    Of course I am going to be called “racist” for mentioning this, but it is a point which cannot be contradicted: a larger proportion of blacks commit crimes than whites. Regardless of who you blame for this, the criminal justice system should be looking at guilt vs innocence, and that means in a fair system more blacks are going to be convicted than whites. This also means that the data collected could easily show a stronger racial bias among black jurors than among white jurors, which if true would mean we could get fairer trials by having more all-white juries! Studies like this are meaningless unless, as previous posters have mentioned, you can somehow get the number of correct vs incorrect verdicts rather than just innocent vs guilty verdicts.

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  10. Dr. Goodnick says:

    That fact, standing alone in a vacuum, is meaningless.

    Whether white jury members discriminate, or black jury members do, (or both, or neither) cannot be determined from this analysis.

    Which grouping is more accurate is the salient point (and probably impossible to answer).

    Could the researchers filter cases where later evidence came in to play to vindicate, or incriminate the defendants?

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  11. Dr. Goodnick says:

    also, the conclusion does not follow from the data.

    (If, for example, the jury pool in Sarasota County was 10 or 20 percent black instead of the 3 percent observed in the data, conviction rates for black defendants would be much lower and those for white defendants much higher than those observed in the data.” )

    That is not clear at all, and it does not follow from the data. More likely the outcomes for all those cases would have been identical to what it was, had minor changes to the jury occurred.

    Yet another important unanswered question would be to see if having a mix of races on a jury brings another perspective, or other information into the deliberation, and that is a reason for the apparent difference in outcomes.

    Seems quite a leap and just lazy to assume everything this racism (and it is evident that the researchers assumed this was their answer anyways – “not shocking perhaps”)

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  12. Philip says:

    My friend used to say that you are innocent until proven black.

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  13. Josselin says:

    What I believe the researchers showed (and that’s why they admitted this wasn’t news) is just that the question of race enters into play at the time of deciding whether or not the defendant is guilty.

    And of course an all-black jury would probably be just as “racist” as an all-white one, but what they say is that just having 1 african-american in the jury is enough to shift the balance, which “proves” one thing : that the members of the jury tend to express different views if at least one black person is present to hear them. And that’s why they talk about having more black people in juries in locations where they are in great minority.

    Anyway, in the case of juries, the fundamental question that should always be on people’s mind and mostly isn’t, is that, in terms of democracy, a false-conviction is far far worse than a false-acquital.

    I’m sorry, I haven’t spoken English in some time, and I’m having a hard time being clear about what I’m trying to say.

    PS : 12 angry men was already about that. The prejudice wasn’t exactly race, but it was a prejudice, because it’s always there in a jury room.

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  14. Bret says:

    I would blame some of the bias on poor defense. What defense would allow an all white jury for a black defendant? Sounds like counsel does not care…

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  15. I wonder says:

    I’m with Bret (@14). A black defendant represented by a person who doesn’t aim for at least some racial diversity on the jury isn’t being represented by a top-drawer attorney…

    …assuming that any black people showed up for jury duty, because the attorney can’t magic up a racially diverse jury if only white people appear when summoned. One of the causes of all-white juries is the greater propensity of black (a marker for ‘poor’?) citizens simply failing to show up when they’re summoned.

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  16. PaulD says:

    It’s hard comment on race and juries without sounding racist, but here it goes. Black “racism” if you want to call it that, takes the form of an inappropriate leniency, if anything. That is, I don’t believe a majority-black jury would be more likely to find a white man guilty than an all-white jury would, but I do think they would be more likely to find a black man innocent. It’s all about racial solidarity, and it explains the irrationally high support among blacks for Obama right now.

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  17. satch says:

    to paul d what the heck do you think blacks were going to vote for racial code word speaking sarah palin?rush, beck and the racist tea party folks is why we will keep on supporting him.when gas was 4-5 dollars a gallon where was the tea party then?

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  18. Jesse says:

    The responses pointing out that blacks commit responses is a good example of possible reasoning used by those who have created this bias. Shouldn’t we presume equal guilt if one is already being charged of a crime? It’s not as if people are being randomly picked off the street and charged with random crimes.

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  19. Jesse says:

    I meant the response that mentioned blacks commit more crimes

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  20. Frank says:

    Based on my experience on 2 juries, the real issue is whether or not the jurors believe in “innocent till proven guilty”. Think this isn’t an issue? In one trial, after being told in a video and by the judge, prosecutor, and defense that being charged meant nothing, 3 people agreed with the statement that the defendant had to be guilty of something or they wouldn’t be on trial.

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