Dateline: August, 2010, Issue 3

How does racial composition of a jury affect capital sentencing?

Baldus and colleagues (2001) analyzed 317 capital murder cases tried by jury in Philadelphia from 1981 to 1997. The researchers compared death sentence rates of juries with 4 or fewer blacks (below the median number of blacks for Philadelphia) to juries with 5 or more blacks (above the median number of blacks for Philadelphia).

The death penalty sentencing rate declined by 9 percentage points when capital juries had more than the median number of blacks. The death penalty sentencing rate was 34% when 4 or fewer blacks sat on a capital jury and 25% when the jury had 5 or more black jurors.

The difference in the death penalty sentencing rate primarily involved cases having black defendants. Black defendants had a substantially higher death sentence rate when the jury was predominantly non-black than when it had 5 or more blacks.

Racial composition of juries affects capital sentencing, particularly for black defendants.

Source Baldus, D. C., Woodworth, G., Zuckerman, D., Weiner, N. A., & Broffitt, B. (2001). The use of peremptory challenges in capital murder trials: A legal and empirical analysis. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 3, pp. 1-172.