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Race and the Decision Making of Juries

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 12 Issue: Part 2 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 171-187
Samuel R. Sommers
Date Published
September 2007
17 pages
This paper reviews the influence of a jury’s racial composition on its decisionmaking, the race of a defendant and the verdict of a jury, and whether the influence of race is comparable for jurors of different races.
Research on race and legal decisionmaking has provided compelling evidence that race can exert a causal affect on trial outcomes in some cases. The precise mechanisms that account for this influence remain in need of additional empirical investigation, as do a variety of questions regarding the generalizability of these findings across different types of trials and racial groups. In addition, the published research literature on this topic does not allow for definitive assessment of whether a defendant’s race was influential in a particular trial, or whether a different verdict would have been reached in a case by a jury of different composition. Nonetheless, the more general conclusion that race has the potential to impact a jury’s final verdict, not to mention the nature and tone of its deliberations, carries important implications for a variety of ongoing legal debates. Research concerning race and juries also has the potential to make theoretical contributions to the psychological literature on social judgment, group dynamics, and decisionmaking. The relationship between race and jury decisionmaking is a controversial topic that has received increased attention in recent years. While public and media discourse have focused on anecdotal evidence in the form of high-profile cases, legal researchers have considered a wide range of empirical questions including: to what extent does the race of a defendant affect the verdict tendencies of juries; is this influence of race comparable for jurors of different races; and in what ways does a jury’s racial composition affect its verdict and deliberations? This paper examines these issues. References