Dateline: January, 2007, Issue 1

How does the racial diversity of juries affect verdicts?

Typically, we think that racial diversity on juries is valuable because it offers the perspective of a minority group member. Recent research by Sommers (2006) suggests that racial diversity also encourages majority group members to re-think their perspectives.

In this research, jury-eligible and called jurors were assigned to either racially homogeneous (all White) or racially mixed (4 Blacks, 2 Whites) juries, and deliberated on the (videotaped and summarized) trial of a Black defendant.

The effects of racial diversity in jury composition were detectable both before and during deliberations. Before deliberations, Black jurors were less likely to vote guilty than White jurors (23% to 44%). Interestingly, Whites in racially mixed juries, as compared to all-White juries, were also more lenient toward the Black defendant (31% to 51%) just before the start of deliberations, demonstrating that the effects of diversity do not occur solely through information exchange. Said differently, Whites simply knowing they were on racially mixed juries were more lenient to the Black defendant than Whites who knew they were on all-White juries.

During deliberations, racially mixed juries exchanged a wider range of information than all-White juries. This finding was not wholly attributable to the performance of Black jurors, as Whites cited more case facts, made fewer errors, and were more amenable to discussion of racism when in racially diverse versus all-White juries.

The researcher concluded that racial composition affected White jurors before deliberations occurred, and this effect was then noticeable during deliberations in the information White jurors exchanged.

Source Sommers, S. R. (2006). On racial diversity and group decision making: Identifying multiple effects of racial composition on jury deliberations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, pp. 597-612.