Dateline: March, 2008, Issue 2

When do Black jurors judge Black defendants more harshly than White defendants?

Often, White jurors are more lenient to White defendants, and Black jurors more lenient to Black defendants. These "in-group" racial preferences can dissipate or reverse when jurors want to distance themselves from, rather than align themselves with, a defendant.

Kerr and colleagues (1995) studied the maintenance or dissolution of in-group racial preferences in a child molestation case presented to both White and Black jurors. Some jurors heard strong evidence against the defendant, while other jurors heard weak evidence against the defendant.

When the evidence against the defendant was weak, in-group racial preferences were identified: White jurors were more lenient to a White defendant and Black jurors were more lenient to a Black defendant.

When the evidence against the defendant was strong, in-group racial preferences were partly reversed: Black jurors were more punitive than White jurors to Black defendants if the majority of jurors were White.

The researchers concluded that Black jurors judge a Black defendant more harshly when two conditions occur simultaneously: (1) Black jurors comprise a minority of a jury, and (2) the evidence against a Black defendant is strong.

Source Kerr, N. L., Hymes, R. W., Anderson, A. B., & Weathers, J. E. (1995). Defendant-juror similarity and mock juror judgments. Law and Human Behavior, 19, pp. 545-567.