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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  1. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. Philip says:

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

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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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