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What Is The Impact Of A Racially Diverse Jury?
Posted on May 14, 2021
As we covered in our blog about jury trials, juries exist to give their ruling during severe offence trials. While the Criminal Code states that the jurors must be impartial to the case, this only ensures that they have no personal connection to the case or bias/prejudice that will affect the outcome. This does not guarantee that the panel of jurors is racially, socioeconomically or gender diverse.
So what is a racially diverse jury, and why is it essential to have one? Do they work better than all-white juries in severe offences?
What Is A Racially Diverse Jury?
A racially diverse jury describes a panel of jurors that vary in ethnicities and races. This is important, especially in serious offence cases, because it provides diversity in thinking processes and life experiences. Different cultures and backgrounds allow for different ways of reasoning and debating issues which create a fairer trial process. Especially in issues where there may be racial prejudice, having a panel of jurors that is primarily one race may cause the ruling to ignore important elements of the case.
But does the data actually support that racially diverse juries work and result in deeper deliberation?
Does The Data Support Racially Diverse Juries?
An article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported a research study that examined the multiple effects of racial diversity on group decision making. Participants deliberated on the trial of a Black defendant as members of racially homogeneous or heterogeneous mock juries. Half of the groups were exposed to pretrial jury selection questions about racism and half were not.
Study participants consisted of 121 that were recruited from jury pools in Michigan. An additional 79 jury eligible individuals volunteered through newspaper advertisements. Sixty percent were female, 40% were male, and they were all 18-78 years old. Out of all the participants, 83% were White, and 17% were Black.
The study randomly assigned these participants to six-person juries that were either White or consisted of four White and two Black individuals. Before presenting the case video, a Court TV recording of a Black individual charged with sexually assaulting White women, participants were given one of two questionnaires. They were asked either race-neutral or race-relevant questions about institutional racism in the legal system which provided a racially charged context for the subsequent trial.
Even though jury selection questioning, or voir dire, is used in an attempt to counteract potential racial bias, jurors often conceal their own biases. This study used the voir dire manipulation to test the hypothesis that pretrial questions about racism would colour jurors’ trial judgements.
After viewing the trial video, but before deliberations, the jurors were asked to indicate their preference of guilty or not guilty. They also had to share their judgement of the likelihood that the defendant committed the crime.
Review of the voir dire questionnaire results found that participants who answered the race-relevant jury selection questions were less likely to vote guilty before deliberating and gave lower likelihood of the Black defendant’s guilt. These findings suggest that even if voir dire is limited in its ability to identify biased individuals, it may influence prospective jurors by reminding them of the importance of rendering judgements free from prejudice.
Diverse Juries Versus All-White Juries
The study allowed all of the juries 60 minutes to deliberate and come to a ruling. One all-White jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict, 16 groups reached a unanimous non-guilty verdict, and 12 groups did not reach a verdict at all.
With data collected during the discussions, they found that diverse juries deliberated for longer than the all-White juries. Diverse juries also referenced more case facts. In particular, the White members of the diverse juries brought up and referenced the case facts in their discussion. The diverse juries also made less inaccurate statements about the case than the individuals in the all-White juries.
Out of the 14 all-White groups, only five groups brought up racism during their deliberations. In each of these five groups, another member would try to minimize the importance of racism. They would then try to change the subject.
The results of this study show that diverse juries deliberate longer, reference more facts, and address important issues. Issues like racism can play a large role in assessing the facts placed before them during the trial. Additionally, White members of the diverse group likely felt more pressure to address issues such as racism and back up their statements using case facts rather than their own opinions and prejudices.
Choosing Truly Impartial Juries
By allowing for diverse juries to be chosen, it provides a richer and fairer deliberation. With different vantage points, the jurors can deliberate longer and address more facets of the case. Especially when so many cases deal with issues such as race, gender and socioeconomic standing, it is essential to have juries that reflect different race, gender and class experiences. For a jury to be entirely impartial, it is important to have varied life experiences reflected within the juror panel.
When prosecutors or defence lawyers deliberately try to challenge and dismiss jurors of a certain race to reach a panel of white jurors, it can be detrimental to the justice system. The justice system has a responsibility to the accused to build a racially diverse jury. This provides the fairest trial possible.
How Juries Are Selected in Canada
An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, SC 2019 c 25 [Bill C-75] came into force in September 2019. These amendments eliminated preemptory challenges. These means that neither the Crown nor the defence may challenge a potential jury member. In the past, trial counsel would receive the list of all potential jurors which included names and occupations. Often times, trial counsel would use a preemptory challenge in order to seat ideal jurors. This may mean that trial counsel would challenge a male in order to seat a female. However, now that preemptory challenges have been removed the only questions and issues discussed at the jury selection voir dire concerns potential hardships and bias. Ultimately, if the judge does not find any issue, then the potential juror will likely be seated as a jury member.
If you are currently facing criminal charges, it is essential that you speak to an experienced lawyer. Here at Ross Lutz Barristers, we are busy fighting for our clients' freedoms every day. Contact us to see how we can help with your case.