Racial Bias Still Plagues U.S. Court System, Experts Say

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday (today) on the issue of racial discrimination in jury selection. Duke professors Neil Vidmar and Patrick Bayer are available to comment. Patrick BayerQuotes:•    “The Sixth Amendment right to a trial by an impartial jury is the bedrock of our criminal justice system,” says Duke University economics professor Patrick Bayer. “Yet the abstract promise of impartiality has been called into question in settings in which defendants face juries that include few members of the same race. The small percentage of blacks in the U.S. population (less than 13 percent nationwide) and their systematic exclusion from juries in many settings means that black defendants routinely face all-white juries in many U.S. states and counties.”•    “Concerns about jury representation go hand in hand with the sense that the racial makeup of juries may have a big effect on criminal conviction rates. Surprisingly, we know very little about this.”•    “In a recent study, my colleagues and I analyzed more than 700 felony trials in Lake and Sarasota counties in Florida from 2000 to 2010, examining how conviction rates varied with the racial composition of jury pools. Because the eligible jury population in these counties is less than five percent black, jury pools typically included very few black members. The results were straightforward and striking: in cases with no black members of the jury pool, black defendants were convicted in 81 percent of trials. When the jury pool included one or more black members, conviction rates dropped to 71 percent.”  •    “That the racial composition of the jury pool has such a large impact on conviction rates raises obvious concerns about the fairness of our criminal justice system – especially when coupled with the documented systematic exclusion of black jurors in many settings. The Supreme Court badly needs to re-examine the issue of jury representation at the most basic level. The fundamental fairness and efficacy of our criminal justice system are at stake.”•    Bio:Patrick Bayer is a professor of economics at Duke University who studies racial inequality, crime and the impact of racial composition of juries on criminal trial outcomes.http://econ.duke.edu/people/bayer•    Archive video interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8PxQUanOUEFor additional comment, contact Bayer at:patrick.bayer@duke.eduNeil Vidmar •    Quotes:“Strikingly, the current Foster case involving racial discrimination in jury selection is an old problem,” says Duke University law professor Neil Vidmar. •    “Back in the early 1970s in Toledo, Ohio, a young black man was accused of killing a policeman. The initial jury pool of 130 persons contained only three black persons despite that fact that Toledo’s population was 33 percent black. The testimony that my colleague, Milton Rokeach, and I gave persuaded the judge to dismiss the original pool and order that a new and more representative jury be chosen.”•    “All these decades later, despite a number of Supreme Court and state court rulings on racial bias in our criminal justice system, especially with respect to death penalty cases, the issue of racial bias still haunts our criminal justice system. It potentially affects jury decisions on guilt as well as punishment in death penalty cases.”•    Bio:Neil Vidmar, Russell M. Robinson II Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Duke University's School of Law, specializes in jury behavior. He is the author, with Valerie P. Hans, of “American Juries: The Verdict” and “Judging the Jury.” https://law.duke.edu/fac/vidmar/•    Archive video interview (different subject): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7meJlGRsRMU•    For additional comment, contact Vidmar at:Vidmar@law.duke.edu