Study: All-White Jury Pools Convict Black Defendants 16 Percent More Often Than Whites
Durham, NC - Juries formed from all-white jury pools in Florida convicted black defendants 16 percent more often than white defendants, a gap that was nearly eliminated when at least one member of the jury pool was black, according to a Duke University-led study.
The researchers examined more than 700 non-capital felony criminal cases in Sarasota and Lake counties from 2000-2010 and looked at the effects of the age, race and gender of jury pools on conviction rates.
The jury pool typically consisted of 27 members selected from eligible residents in the two counties. From this group, attorneys chose six seated jurors plus alternates.
"I think this is the first strong and convincing evidence that the racial composition of the jury pool actually has a major effect on trial outcomes," said senior author Patrick Bayer, chairman of Duke's Economics Department.
Did anyone pick up on the phrase "jury pool"? I only see it in the headline and five more times in the text, so maybe it is understandable that Adam Serwer of Mother Jones wrote this for the laugh track:
Study: All-White Juries More Likely To Convict Black Defendants
Duke University released a study on Tuesday that examined the impact of race in jury polls in Florida, and there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, according to the study, which looked at 700 cases between 2000 and 2010, all-white juries are significantly more likely to convict black defendants than white ones. The good news is that a single black juror can alter that dynamic.
And away he goes - the study proves what he already knew about racist white Southerners, so why read on? And Raw Story reads Adam Serwer so they follow him over a cliff with "Study finds white juries more likely to convict black defendants". Another lefty meme is born!
But, if we can leave the Reality-Based Community and return to reality, (and here is the puzzle) the study said nothing like that.
The authors followed two Florida counties that are about 95% white. Six person juries were formed from prospective pools of twenty-seven people. If the twenty-seven were all white, blacks experienced a higher conviction rate. If the pool started with one or two blacks, the conviction rate fell for blacks regardless of the eventual composition of the six person jury.
Weird? I am not sure how to explain that. If the eventual jury is all white, why did having a black in the pool affect the result? A guess - if the prosecutor maneuvers to drop a black juror it opens the door to whites that may be sympathetic to the defense and would otherwise have been struck. Well, Law and Order covers few Florida trials, so I am out of ammo.
Here is the abstract, which again hints at the importance of the phrase "jury pool":
This article examines the impact of jury racial composition on trial outcomes using a data set of felony trials in Florida between 2000 and 2010. We use a research design that exploits day-to-day variation in the composition of the jury pool to isolate quasi-random variation in the composition of the seated jury, finding evidence that (i) juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly (16 percentage points) more often than white defendants, and (ii) this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member. The impact of jury race is much greater than what a simple correlation of the race of the seated jury and conviction rates would suggest. These findings imply that the application of justice is highly uneven and raise obvious concerns about the fairness of trials in jurisdictions with a small proportion of blacks in the jury pool.
I am going to hit the "Publish" button now and read on; I may have to amend my own summary, but perhaps some of the legal talent can help me out.
BORING: My guess is as good as theirs. The authors note that even when the final jury is all-white, blacks in the pool may have helped the defense, for the reason I suggested above:
Adding black potential jurors to the pool can also affect trial outcomes even when these jurors are not ultimately seated on the jury. This indirect effect comes about through the jury selection process if attorneys on each side use their peremptory challenges to strike the potential jurors most likely to be hostile to their case. We would expect the defense attorney, for example, to systematically strike those jurors with the highest ex ante probabilities of conviction (i.e., those in the upper tail of the distribution) based on their observable attributes and answers to pretrial questioning. In this way, whenever attorneys use peremptory challenges to strike black members of the pool (presumably when they are in the tail of the distribution), they forgo the possibility of excluding another potential juror with a similar ex ante probability of convicting. This pulls the likelihood of conviction for the seated jurors toward that excluded person's position even though he or she does not wind up serving on the jury.
IT TAKES ALL KINDS: There are all sorts of whites and blacks. The authors note that blacks are as likely to eventually be seated as whites, which is uplifting:
...the distributions of ex ante likelihoods of conviction for white and black members of the jury pool may naturally overlap significantly when there is substantial within-race heterogeneity. Given this heterogeneity, the attorneys will effectively seat a significant number of black potential jurors whose ex ante likelihoods of conviction are not all that different than those of the seated white jurors.
NO, THE RESULT IS NOT DRIVEN BY THE FINAL JURY COMPOSITION: You had to know they would consider the possibility that blacks in the pool sometimes results in blacks on the jury, thereby driving their result. Not happening:
That the presence of black members of the jury pool might have a substantial effect on trial outcomes even when no black jurors are actually seated for the trial is also consistent with the pattern of correlation of the composition of the seated jury with trial outcomes. Strikingly, ordinary least squares (OLS) estimates of the black–white conviction rate gap when there is at least one black member of the seated jury are almost identical to the estimated causal effect of having at least one black potential juror in the pool. That these point estimates are similar in magnitude despite the fact that a black juror is seated in only 40% of the cases in which there is a black member of the jury pool implies that jury race has a broader impact than what a naive OLS analysis of the effect of seated jury composition would suggest. That is, although the black–white conviction gap declines by an average of 16 percentage points in all trials in which there is at least one black member of the jury pool, a naive OLS analysis of the effect of the seated jury would instead appear to imply that such a decline occurred only in the smaller subset of cases in which a black juror was actually seated.
TO BE FAIR: The authors acknowledge an obvious baseline problem:
The ability of our analysis to draw firm conclusions about the fairness of trial outcomes, however, is fundamentally limited by the fact that the strength of the evidence in cases brought against white and black defendants is not observed directly in the data. As a result, it is impossible to draw firm conclusions about what relative conviction rates should be for black and white defendants. If, in fact, the strength of the evidence in cases involving black and white defendants is comparable, our results would imply that juries resulting from all-white jury pools require weaker standards of evidence to convict black versus white defendants, whereas juries resulting from jury pools with at least some black members apply comparable standards.
Bolstering their case - the jury pool composition varies day by day (they say) but these cases would normally be in the prosecutorial pipeline for days or weeks. A *possible* confounder - same day plea bargains, where the defense and prosecution look at the pool at opening day of the trial and strikes a deal. My first blush is that a defense attorney with a black defendant and a strong case will proceed regardless of the jury pool; if the case is weak, an all-white pool may prompt an attempt at settlement.
That *suggests* that all-white pools see only strong defenses, whereas mixed pools may see a mix of strong and longshot defenses. However, since the conviction rate is higher with the all white pools, my same-day settlement theory is pointing in the wrong direction when viewed exclusively from the defense perspective. I hate it when that happens... So let's reverse that arrow!
The prosecutor can see the jury pool too. If it is all-white, the DA won't be offering a generous deal to a black defendant, so even a defendant with a weak case will press forward.
But if the prosecutor sees a black candidate or two in the jury pool, he/she might decide to offer a generous deal to a defendant with a seemingly weak case (black defendants with a strong case and a favorable pool don't expect a deal, they expect a win).
So now we can imagine that the conviction rate ought to be higher with an all-white pool because the DA rolls up the score against weak cases that would otherwise have gotten a deal against a more favorable pool. Well, it's a theory...
And the theory was tested against the data! OK, it came up a loser, but still:
Columns (4)–(6) consider the robustness of the results to alternative ways of categorizing trial outcomes that are not simple verdicts of “guilty” or “not guilty” by the jury. For instance, column (4) redefines as guilty 133 cases in Lake County that are pled by the defendant at some point after a jury pool is chosen (but before the case actually goes to the jury). It is theoretically ambiguous whether such cases should be included in the analysis (categorized as guilty verdicts). On one hand, it makes sense to include them if these plea bargains are reached because the composition of the jury implies that a guilty verdict is very likely. On the other hand, if these plea bargains are reached for reasons unrelated to the jury composition (as they would be if reached prior to jury selection), including them biases the coefficients toward 0 as the outcome is, by construction, the same for all of these trials regardless of the jury composition.29 Column (5) recodes those 25 Sarasota cases that did not have guilty or not guilty jury verdicts associated with it (see note 14) as not guilty, and column (6) repeats the same exercise, coding these cases as guilty. In all cases, the results are very similar to the benchmark results reported in column (1) of Table V.
OK, I like the way they are thinking.
QUALITY OF DEFENSE: If (*IF*) the white defendants as a group are wealthier than the black defendants they may have better legal representation, which could lead to a lower conviction rate for whites. Doesn't explain these results, but it may be worth keeping in mind.
Also possibly worth keeping in mind - I am stuck on the notion that most cases don't go to trial, so any case that does go to trial is already a bit of an outlier. For example, I once sat on a jury where the defense had nothing, but it was the defendant's Third Strike so any plea meant a long sentence. Reading on, I see that gets a mention:
In fact, almost 90% of criminal defendants in U.S. District Courts plead guilty and 97% of all convictions are the result of plea rather than a conviction by a court or jury.36 As a result of these pretrial selection mechanisms, the set of cases that go to trial are systematically more likely to be those where the quality of the evidence is in considerable dispute among the parties. Thus, it might not be terribly surprising if potential jurors have fairly diffuse ex ante conviction rates for this especially select subset of cases.
As to what conclusions can be drawn, the authors are quite careful:
What our results imply regarding the fairness of jury trials for defendants of each race is much more difficult to say. As the discussion of Section V makes clear, when jurors have heterogeneous likelihoods of conviction, any random variation in the jury pool will affect the likelihood that the seated jury convicts the defendant. But such a model has nothing to say about which juror in the distribution is applying the most appropriate ex ante standard of evidence for defendants of each race. The problem is that without any direct measure of the objective strength of the evidence that is brought in cases with black versus white defendants, we have no way of discerning what relative conviction rates for black versus white defendants should be. If, in fact, the quality of the evidence brought in the cases of white and black defendants in our sample is comparable, our results would imply that juries formed from all-white jury pools require a weaker standard of evidence to convict black versus white defendants. This is a very serious potential implication of our analysis, but one that we cannot reach conclusively without knowing more about the quality of evidence presented in each case.
Since our friends on the left couldn't even read as far as the word "pool", I assume they won't reach that level of nuance. However, as an example of the point the authors are making, black jurors who assume all white cops are lying are not delivering justice any more evenhandedly than white jurors who assume all blacks are guilty of something.