Last week I wrote about the troubling study suggesting that "many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes." Commenter Roy Wilson asked for a constructive response: "Any thoughts about this topic in relation to jury composition as it might affect deliberation?"
I do have a thought -- not an answer, but a thought. More accurately, Tufts professor Samuel R. Sommers has a thought, explained in his 2006 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The thought is: jury diversity. Prof. Sommers's research suggests that diversity in the jury itself can bring unconscious biases out of the shadows.
Diverse juries, better juries
In the study described in the paper, Prof. Sommers and his colleagues recruited enough people to make up 29 separate six-person juries. (Unlike many university-based psychological studies, this one used jury-eligible adults from the community, not college students.) Some of the juries included only white jurors; the rest were composed of four white jurors and two black jurors. Each jury listened to a Court TV summary of a sexual-assault trial of a black defendant.
When the groups deliberated about the summarized trial, the diverse groups performed far better. They raised and discussed more of the evidence they had seen. They mentioned more "missing" evidence, things they had not seen that they thought would have been helpful. And they were more willing to mention, and discuss, the possible role of racism in the case.
Discussing what's uncomfortable
Most striking, it wasn't only the black jurors who added to the discussion in the diverse juries. Instead, the white jurors were more willing to raise and discuss issues when the black jurors were there. On the topic of racism, for example, Sommers quotes several exchanges from his juries, and concludes:
Participants in all-White groups seemed surprised at and were made uncomfortable by the mention of racism during deliberations. Perhaps they had given little thought to racial issues to that point in the experiment. True, the defendant was a Black man, but race was not discussed during the trial, nor would a cursory look around the room suggest that such a potentially controversial issue would be brought up during deliberations. Whites in diverse groups, on the other hand, reacted differently. They did not automatically change the topic when racism came up, but rather engaged in substantive conversation about it. Members of diverse groups did disagree while deliberating, at times vociferously, but they devoted time to discussing even polarizing and uncomfortable topics.
It rings true, of course; you've seen it happen yourself. When you're talking to a person of another race, you're more conscious of racial context, overtones, and issues. Diversity works like a flashlight. It may not cure racism, but it can bring racial biases out where we can talk about them.
- Prof. Sommers has spent the last several years studying race and juries. I wrote here on his paper on purportedly "race-neutral" peremptory challeges under Batson; his other papers are linked to, in full, on his Tufts bio page. Thanks to him and Tufts for that.
- Not surprisingly, diverse juries are also perceived as more fair and legitimate by the public than all-white or all-black juries are. Northwestern professor Shari Seidman Diamond and Dr. Leslie Ellis (now of TrialGraphix) showed that in their paper "Race, Diversity, and Jury Composition: Battering and Bolstering Legitimacy," in the Chicago-Kent Law Review in 2003.
- So does Batson let you strike white jurors in the name of a diverse jury? Don't expect a case on point soon, but probably not. Another obstacle on the Batson collision course.
- Related posts here:
(Photo by Dan at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ladnlins/1822774622/; license details there.)