The Effect of Jurors' Race on Their Response to Scientific Evidence

The Effect of Jurors' Race on Their Response to Scientific Evidence

The Effect of Jurors' Race on Their Response to Scientific Evidence

The Effect of Jurors' Race on Their Response to Scientific Evidence

Synopsis

Albertson seeks to analyze the influence of jurors' race on perceptions of complex scientific evidence. Jury eligible citizens viewed a mock criminal trial involving the presentation of mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mtDNA). White and African American mock jurors' perceptions of mtDNA were measured. Although robust findings were discovered regarding race, results imply that an educational background in science and math is important. The present study has shown the negative impact that low levels of science and math courses have on perceptions of scientific evidence. Courtroom evidence will only continue to become even more complex in the future. The importance of scientific literacy and jury reform is discussed.

Excerpt

A number of controversial, high-profile criminal cases have occurred in recent years in which race was a salient factor during the trial. In some trials, race was the focal point as the result of a jury verdict. In the criminal trial of The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson (1994), the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts. The majority of jurors (nine out of twelve) in the trial were African American, resulting in a public debate as to whether racism was on trial as opposed to the defendant. When O. J. Simpson was later found guilty in a civil trial by jury that had a majority of white jurors, some critics claimed that jurors imposed punitive damages on Simpson as driven by bias and as payback for Simpson’s acquittal in the criminal trial (Dershowitz, 2004).

In addition to claims of police bias in cases such as Simpson, in recent years, cases involving police brutality and African American citizens have become increasingly common. Consider the 1997 case of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Louima was sexually assaulted in the bathroom of the 70 Precinct of the New York Police Department (Kocieniewski, 1997). The primary perpetrator, Officer Volpe, plead guilty to the charge of violating Louima’s civil rights as a result of brutally sodomizing him by ramming a plunger into his rectum and mouth. While the police officers involved in the event were charged criminally and convicted, many argued that their sentences were too lenient.

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