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The importance of racial diversity in juries

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

April 29, 2021 – A deeper look into jury racial composition shows the necessity of racial diversity in creating a fairer justice system.

Last week, we spoke about and shared an article on jury diversity and what is being done about it in Washington State.

This new, timely article from VOA examines the jury from State v. Derek Chauvin trial in particular and further emphasizes why the racial composition of a jury matters so much. The article references another important study conducted by psychology professor Sam Sommers from Tufts University, wherein he examined stereotyping, prejudice and cognitive bias in mock juries. This research revealed that diverse juries deliberated longer, were more thorough on their consideration of evidence and facts, and were less likely to presume that a defendant was guilty.

Other studies, according to Sommers, showed that all-white juries tend to be more punitive towards Black defendants than diverse juries and white jurors were more careful when working with diverse jurors. It seems to make sense that the sharing of perspectives between a diverse group of people would lead to a more thoughtful jury.

A diverse jury such as the one involved in the Chauvin trial is a step forward, but it is sadly still not the norm. As Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein states in the article: “I was surprised to learn that this [Chauvin] jury was diverse, because usually that’s not the case in any state in this country. No state has really gotten it right. Juries are supposed to reflect their communities, and our founders thought this was a critical element of democracy, because the government should not get to decide who should be locked up in prison, or even who should prevail in a civil dispute. Ordinary citizens exercise that right.”

Our justice system still has a long way to go, but the tides are turning. With the research and hard work of individuals and groups across the nation, such as the Equal Justice Initiative as well as our very own creation of the Jury Diversity Task Force here in Washington state, a bright future for criminal justice reform seems to be just on the horizon.

For more information on this topic, please read this article: “Why a Jury’s Racial Composition Matters” by Dora Mekouar.