White Juries and Black Victims

Juries with little diversity tend to acquit or offer lighter sentences when the victim is black.

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A Continual Problem

And while some progress has been made, there have also been serious setbacks.  

In June, North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature repealed a law that gave individuals on death row the right to raise an appeal based on the possibility that racial bias, including all-white juries, played a role in their conviction and the sentence handed down. In the four years that the law, known as the Racial Justice Act, remained on the books in North Carolina, four black men saw their death sentences commuted.  

All-white juries have also been shown to deliberate for shorter periods of time because they avoid often messy, emotional and stressful discussions about justice. And nearly all-white juries typically bring intense pressure to bear when a single black, Asian or Latino person is a part of the jury panel, Stevenson said.

"Juries that are homogeneous make a lot of wrong decisions because they are typically looking to agree with one another," Stevenson said. "They assume a diversity of perspectives, extended debate and evaluation will not be a part of reaching consensus. And the smaller the jury, the more critical diversity really becomes."

The Current Trial

In Sanford, Fla., the panel that will decide Zimmerman's fate only consists of six jurors, a quirk of Florida law.

In the Zimmerman trial, all of that is coupled with something that could go even further to stand in the way of a guilty verdict, said Stevenson.

"There are very substantial differences in the way that people think about the burden of race," Stevenson said. "Most people of color are very familiar with this experience of being suspected, profiled, that appears to be at the center of this case. For many white Americans, that is a completely abstract, if not foreign, concept."  

Just how Zimmerman wound up facing a nearly all-white jury is not clear.

George Zimmerman Trial: 11 Racial Events

Despite warnings from the judge not to raise the issue, race was still at the center of the trial.