Do Jurors Discriminate? Evidence from State Juror Selection Procedures
41 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2010
Date Written: July 16, 2010
It is commonly argued that racial discrimination in the judicial system contributes significantly to the observed discrepancy in incarceration rates for whites and African Americans. This paper uses a series of changes in state laws governing the compilation of lists of eligible jurors to attempt to identify the impact of increasing the participation of African Americans and other minorities in jury service on the racial composition of admissions to prison. Between 1976 and 1999, 12 states passed laws requiring that lists of eligible jurors for state trials be created by selecting at random from publicly available lists such as lists of registered voters and drivers, harmonizing state laws with the 1968 Federal Jury Selection and Service Act. These laws limited the discretion of jury commissioners to select lists that were not representative of the general population and often wholly excluded African Americans from jury service. Evidence exploiting the variation in timing of these law changes suggests that the reforms resulted in a 5 to 6 percentage point drop in the share of new admissions to prison accounted for by non-whites. This finding is consistent with the existence of racial discrimination in the deliberation of criminal cases.
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