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Justice Research in the News Analysis

The Article

The article has been published in the New York Times, a well-known and popular newspaper. The author, Ronald F. Wright uses his research on jury selection in North Carolina named “The Jury Sunshine Project: Jury Selection Data as a Political Issue” to make the assertion that higher percentages of nonwhite people are removed than white ones. He attempts to expand the findings to the entirety of the United States by citing statistics from several other states. The explanation provided for the particulars of the process is that black people are more likely to vote “not guilty,” and so prosecutors attempt to remove them, with defense attorneys doing the same for whites. However, judges are more likely to remove a black person due to a challenge than a white one. According to Wright, this process ensures that the defendant is not judged fairly by a cross-section of the population and that people of color do not trust the legal system due to the poor representation they receive. He suggests two possible solutions, one of which involves the outlawing of challenges based on issues that are determined to be strongly correlated with race. The other is an increase in transparency related to court proceeding publications, which would enable easier identification of possible concerns and increase accountability.

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The Research

The research was published in the University of Illinois Law Review, a publication managed entirely by students of that institution. The description of the journal does not mention peer review, though it is implied that a board of student editors oversees the submissions (“About”). While it is not explicitly described as such, the design suggests that the study is cross-sectional, as it gathers data from a point of time, namely the end of 2011, about a specific subset of cases, felonies in this case. Wright et al. mention that the separation of appropriate circumstances from ones that did not go to trial or were unsuitable for other reasons was challenging and some cases may have been omitted by accident (1420). The authors were able to capture 29624 cases where a juror had sat in the jury box, with 57% retaining their position (Wright et al. 1423). The removals have been classified into judge-ordered ones, those requested by the prosecutor or defense attorney, and those with unknown causes. No information or suggestions that the results may be generalizable are provided, and so statistics from other states would be necessary to extend the scope of the study. However, the investigation of causes by Wright et al. suggests that the removal of jurors of different races is motivated by rational thoughts, with black people being more likely to administer less harsh verdicts (1430). Prosecutors try to remove them from the trial, judges align themselves with prosecutors, and defense attorneys reserve their votes for whites, who treat the accused less favorably, particularly in cases of black people harming white community members.

Threats to Measurement Validity

The authors use the study to call the legitimacy of the court process into question. However, they do not provide evidence that the removal of specific individuals results in a trial that is less fair or that minorities are not sufficiently represented. Wright et al. note that the debate is political in nature, and no clearly defined data are available for the purposes of the discussion (1431). The only information given is that predominantly white juries are more likely to convict and harshly punish black people accused of murdering a white person, but the bias may be informed by black ethnic solidarity as much as implied white racism. Furthermore, the investigation may not have successfully covered every felony that happened in the time period, though the authors believe they were able to look into the majority. The offenses themselves are a representative group, however, as they cover every crime that permits or requires a trial by jury. Lastly, though the author alleges that the higher removal rate of black jurors as opposed to white ones represents inequality, no data is provided as to the degree of representation in the final proceedings. The process may have left the juries with a composition that reflected the overall demographics more accurately.

Potential Biases

The first bias that deserves investigation is confirmation, as the study begins with the assertion that courtroom proceedings are unfair and exclude specific sections of the community. The claim is reinforced at the end of the paper, but it may not be supported by the findings of the study. The preferences of prosecutors and defense attorneys are motivated by rationality instead of pure racial considerations and work towards ensuring a fair trial through the removal of the most biased jurors. Judges only display a slight tendency to exclude black people more often than whites (Wright et al. 1427), one that may be explained by statistical error or an inclination to support the prosecution. The findings are insufficient to support a strong hypothesis, and further research is necessary. The next bias is information-related, as 22% of all jurors did not have a race specified, and 6 to 9 percent of all categories were removed from the proceedings for undisclosed reasons (Wright et al. 1425). These statistics could influence the end results significantly, skewing them in any direction, particularly with people of unknown race, whose numbers exceeded all non-whites combined and displayed a somewhat low retention rate. The last bias is measurement bias, as the authors misrepresent some statistics about the removal of black people from juries. Wright et al. note that black male jurors comprised 6.4% of the initial selection pool, indicating that the figure was relatively low compared to categories such as black females, and then frame the 6% statistic that arose after the challenges as low (1427-1428). However, it does not represent a significant reduction in the proportion of the demographic category participating in trials. While the number is relatively low, evaluating the demographics of juror selection prior to court proceedings is not within the scope of the paper.

The credibility of the Study

The study does not produce many relevant results that can be questioned for their credibility. The primary takeaway from the research, which is not mentioned in the New York Times article, is the difficulty of researching matters such as jury representation. Wright et al. state that the available data are fragmented and the existing scholarly databases are few in number and highly specialized, making extensive research and comparisons between different locations and periods nearly impossible (1417). However, the actual findings of the study suffer from unreliable and limited data as well as inconclusive results. The significant percentage of people whose race is unknown is the foremost concern since it exceeds all of the known non-white people in the selection combined. Even if the results of the research are accepted, the authors do not draw any noteworthy conclusions other than the existence of the slight disparity, which they view from a political angle. Such perspectives are beyond the scope of the law, and in most cases, the behaviors of court officials can be explained by rational logic and do not constitute discrimination. Furthermore, even if the results were to be accepted, the data sample may be outdated, and different prosecutors and judges may have been elected since, with corresponding changes in opinions. It is also challenging to expand the findings to other states, as the study shows an isolated situation in North Carolina, and further research is necessary to see if the same trends appear in different locations.

Use of the Research

The New York Times piece and the research paper share an author, who was able to claim full knowledge of the matter. A considerable part of the article is the same material as that for the study, with a direct reference being used for statistics. The information is relayed correctly, though the framing may mislead the reader. Wright notes that prosecutors and defense attorneys remove significant portions of juror bodies, expressed as percentile values, then describes the tendency of judges to exclude black people more often than white as “20 percent more.” Unlike the prior numbers, this discrepancy is not large, as other categories of court officials can reach values of 100% and more for either race in the same statistic (Wright et al. 1426). Overall, the article is an elaboration on the research that presents it in a more accessible way and provides additional considerations and conclusions, and, as such, uses its parent study appropriately.

Works Cited

Wright, Ronald F., et al. “The Jury Sunshine Project: Jury Selection Data as a Political Issue.” University of Illinois Law Review, vol. 2018, no. 4, pp. 1407-1442.

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Wright, Ronald. “Yes, Jury Selection Is as Racist as You Think. Now We Have Proof.” The New York Times, 2018, Web.

“About.” Illinois Law Review, 2019. Web.

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