Addressing Implicit Bias in Juries
The majority of the literature points to the existence of juror bias, though there are certainly studies which either do not find effects or find that there is bias against white defendants. Mitchell et al. (2005), for example, conducted a meta-analysis and found a small but significant effect of racial bias on juror decisions. In another meta-analysis, Sweeney and Haney (1992) found that white mock-jurors give significantly longer sentences to white defendants than to black ones. Archival studies have also found that black defendants have higher conviction rates than white ones, that they tend to receive harsher sentences, and that they are more likely to be sentenced to death. Further, in a mock-juror study, Wuensch et al. (2002) found that jurors favored defendants of their in-group, particularly when victims were members of an outgroup. In his 2009 dissertation, Lytle also found that individuals display implicit bias against black defendants and that this bias reliably predicts conviction decisions.
However, some studies have found evidence contradicting these findings. In a review of past empirical research, Pfeifer (1990) came to the conclusion that there is little evidence supporting the existence of jurors’ racial bias and that many studies misinterpreted data leading to a false understanding of the state of bias. In another example, Elek and Agor (2014) failed to replicate past findings concerning racial bias and attributed this fact to jurors’ “spontaneous self-correction” in light of society’s recently egalitarian norms. Some have cited this kind of self-correction as a reason for these null effects, particularly in cases where race is salient. Shaw and Skolnick (1995) found in their study that there was an anti-White bias, which deliberation generally eliminated. Another theory suggests that studies which failed to find juror biases bear the mark of social dominance dynamics which obscure the racism at play.
There have been two empirical studies on the topic of jury instructions aimed at bias reduction, Ingriselli (2014) and Elek and Agor (2014).
What We’ll Learn:
This research intends to learn whether a de-biasing jury instruction is effective at having jurors recognize their own implicit bias and overcome it during deliberation. This study would be the first RCT to study the effect of de-biasing jury instructions at all and would specifically test it on actual juries, rather than mock juries.
We partner with the Salt Lake City Justice Court in Utah to field the operation.