Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans

By Marvin D. Free Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Myth of Black Juror
Nullification: Racism Dressed
Up in Jurisprudential Clothing

Elissa Krauss and Martha Schulman


INTRODUCTION

In recent years, African American (and other minority) jurors have regularly been accused of judging cases on preconceived race-based notions about justice rather than on the evidence.' Anecdotal accounts of a handful of allegedly race-based acquittals are bolstered by statistics claiming to show higher rates of acquittals and hung juries in jurisdictions where African Americans and other people of color have become the majority. Critics argue that people of color have transformed a color-blind system into one that is color sensitive. The implication is that as juries have become more representative, race has been injected into the justice system where it was previously absent. Such claims strike at the very core of principles of fairness and justice. They are both a shield for racial prejudice and an attack on the American jury system itself. The message of such claims is that rather than following the law and protecting the innocent, the real job of juries is to convict.

This article looks first at changes in the way that courts have treated black participation in the jury system and then moves to an overview of fundamental legal principles underlying jury decision making. We then consider how African American jurors' adherence to these principles has been wrongly characterized as a pattern of nullification that undermines the system. We go on to discuss differences between black and white experiences and attitudes, emphasizing that in a racially divided society only whites have the luxury of claiming to be color blind. In conclusion, we argue that the myth of black juror nullification is a racist attack on the

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