Copyright (c) 2001 American Psychological Association
Psychology, Public Policy and Law
SPECIAL THEME: THE OTHER-RACE EFFECT AND CONTEMPORARY CRIMINAL JUSTICE: EYEWITNESS IDENTIFICATION AND JURY DECISION MAKING: Jury Decision Making: White Juror Bias: An Investigation of Prejudice Against Black Defendants in the American Courtroom
7 Psych. Pub. Pol. and L. 201
Samuel R. Sommers and Phoebe C. Ellsworth, University of Michigan
In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. They're ugly, but those are the facts of life . . . The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. (Lee, 1960, p. 220)
This quotation, from Harper Lee's (1960) To Kill a Mockingbird, describes how American courtrooms were influenced by the pervasive racial prejudice of the 1930s. Racial bias in the modern legal system may be less blatant than it was in Atticus Finch's Alabama, but the underlying problem of racism in the courts still exists. Whereas in previous eras the prejudicial treatment of Black defendants was attributable to a multitude of factors, including statutory inequality and the racist attitudes of trial and appellate judges, bias in contemporary criminal trials persists in the absence of overt legislative or judicial discrimination. Accordingly, recent investigations of prejudice in the courtroom have typically focused on the bias demonstrated by jurors (King, 1993; Skolnick & Shaw, 1997). As To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960) suggested 40 years ago, any attempt to examine White juror bias must also take into account the nature of racial norms in White society.
Of course, research on prejudice in the legal system has examined racial biases other than those demonstrated by jurors (e.g., discrepancies in arrests, indictments, and plea bargaining). ...
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