National Institute on Aging

University Study Examines How Racial Bias Seeps Into Jury Deliberations

scales_of_justiceA study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Santa Cruz finds that White men tend to be the most influential figures in jury deliberations. The fact that White men are influential figures on juries may result in harsher sentences for Black male defendants.

The researchers conducted a series of 100 mock jury trial deliberations. The facts in all the cases were the same. But the race of the victim and the defendant varied. The researchers found that in these mock trial deliberations:

  • White men were the most likely to be elected jury foremen.
  • White men were more likely than others to argue forcefully for their position.
  • White male jurors were more likely to empathize with White defendants than minority defendants.
  • White male jurors were likely to discount mitigating factors in cases involving Black defendants than so than in cases involving White defendants.

The authors observed that “in the present analysis, we found that White male jurors often asserted emotional authority in the deliberations in two distinct ways: first in terms of asserting their own emotional responses and, second, by policing the emotional expressions of others. Moreover, this authority appeared to be deployed differentially as a function of the defendant’s race.”

The article, “Emotion, Authority, and Death: (Raced) Negotiations in Mock Capital Jury Deliberations,” was published on the website of the journal Law & Social Inquiry, a publication of the American Bar Foundation. It is available here.


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