The Influence of Racial Bias on Jury Selection and Potential Consequences for Justice

Kate S. Abramowitz, Bates College


Empirical research and analyses of criminal court cases suggest that prosecuting attorneys often use race as a basis for excluding Black jurors in cases with Black defendants. This phenomenon has the potential to deprive Black defendants of a fair trial and influence the attitudes and behaviors of the remaining empaneled jurors. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court limited attorneys’ ability to use peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors based on their race in the monumental court case, Batson v. Kentucky. The Court’s decision required attorneys to provide race-neutral justifications for their juror exclusions even though peremptory challenges typically require no explanation. In two studies, we tested a series of questions related to race and peremptory challenge use. In Study 1 (N = 336), we found that participants taking on the role of a prosecutor were slightly more likely to exclude a Black juror than a White juror but gave race-neutral rationales for their decisions. The effect of race was eliminated when participants were warned not to use race as a basis for excluding jurors. In Study 2 (N = 228), we examined the effects of race-based exclusions on participants taking on the role of a juror. Specifically, we investigated the effects of witnessing Black juror exclusions on participants’ conviction likelihood, ability to remember case facts, emotional reactions, and perceptions of fairness in the legal system. Exposure to these exclusions influenced both Black and White jurors’ emotional reactions and perceptions of a fair trial.