Two articles about juries recently caught my eye.
The first is a Reuters article that discusses a recent finding that Caucasians predominate on Manhattan jury pools. Here are some startling statistics from the article:
Only about half of Manhattan's population is white, but three in four people who appear for jury duty are white, the report said.
Hispanics, who make up 27 percent of the overall population, are the most under-represented group in jury pools, accounting for about one in 16 people, it said.
Blacks make up 17 percent of the population, but just one in 10 appears in the pool, while Asians -- 10 percent of the population -- appear at a rate of one in 16.
Members of Citizen Action observed and recorded the race of 14,429 people who appeared in Manhattan juror assembly rooms from November 2006 through February this year.
The New York Personal Injury blog has posted a link to the full report and to a press release regarding the study here.
The prevalence of whites on juries is particularly striking when contrasted with the following data obtained via this Columbia Journalism News article that I found after a quick Google search:
Although African Americans are only 15 percent of the population under 18, they constituted 26 percent of the juvenile arrests in 1998. Arrested African Americans are more likely to be formally processed, sent to adult court, and sent to a juvenile or adult detention or correctional facility.
In addition, the average prison stay for an African-American or Latino juvenile was longer than a white youth’s stay by an average of 86 days. A variety of self-reporting data shows that white and minority children commit crimes at similar rates, according to a report by Vincent Schiraldi, the director of the Justice Policy Institute.
While those statistics are limited to the juvenile population, as anyone who has recently entered a criminal courtroom can attest, African American and Hispanic defendants far outnumber Caucasians amongst the adult population as well.
Not surprisingly, this study confirms what most criminal defense practitioners could have already told you--the vast majority of defendants rarely encounter a jury of their "peers."
Another potential failing of juries that is of even greater importance is discussed in this AFP article which summarizes a troubling study from Northwestern University. The study concludes that juries and judges are wrong 1/6 of the time.
From the article:
So much for US justice: juries get the verdict wrong in one out of six criminal cases and judges don't do much better, a new study has found.
And when they make those mistakes, both judges and juries are far more likely to send an innocent person to jail than to let a guilty person go free, according to an upcoming study out of Northwestern University...
The study, which looked at 290 non-capital criminal cases in four major cities from 2000 to 2001, is the first to examine the accuracy of modern juries and judges in the United States.
It found that judges were mistaken in their verdicts in 12 percent of the cases while juries were wrong 17 percent of the time.
More troubling was that juries sent 25 percent of innocent people to jail while the innocent had a 37 percent chance of being wrongfully convicted by a judge.
Assuming that the findings are correct, the results of the study are disturbing.
That's a big assumption, however, since the method used to determine whether mistakes were made in a given trial is a bit questionable, in my humble opinion:
Spencer's study does not examine why the mistakes were made or which cases ought to be overturned.
Instead, he determined the probability that a mistake was made by looking at how often judges disagreed with the jury's verdict.
"If they disagree they can't both be right," he explained.
Spencer found an agreement rate of just 77 percent, which means a lot of mistakes were being made.
Nevertheless, if the rate of error is even remotely close to 1 out of 6 cases, then as far as I'm concerned-- Houston, we've got a problem.