Harvard Mental Health Letter

In brief: Racial diversity and jury deliberations

In Brief

Racial diversity and jury deliberations

Racially mixed juries deliberate more carefully and thoroughly than all-white juries in racially charged cases, according to an experiment reported in 2006 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. But this effect is independent of the contributions of the black jurors; it results from the influence of their mere presence on white jurors.

In the experiment, 29 six-person mock juries — 14 of them all-white, and 15 consisting of four whites and two blacks — were presented on video with a dramatized imaginary trial. The crime was a sexual assault, the defendant was black, the victim was white, and the evidence was ambiguous. After viewing the video, jurors were asked to say whether they thought the defendant was guilty. Then they were left to discuss the case (under the eye of a camera) for up to an hour and if possible come to a verdict.

Immediately after seeing the video, 40% of the jurors voted for a verdict of guilty — 31% of those in the mixed groups (including 23% of the blacks) and 51% of those in the all-white groups. So, even before the black jurors had a chance to contribute their arguments and air their views, whites in the mixed groups were more open to doubt about the defendant's guilt.

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