Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Baseball, Race, and Juries

This week, ABC News and ESPN announced the results of a poll showing dramatic differences in opinion on Barry Bonds depending on the race of the person polled. ABC News: Poll: Bonds' Quest Gets Scant Support, May 7, 2007.

  • Who's rooting for Bonds to break Hank Aaron's home run record? Only 28% of whites, but 75% of blacks.
  • Who thinks Bonds knowingly took steroids? About 75% of whites, just over a third of blacks.
It appears that blacks are much more likely than whites to take an outstanding black athlete's word, and that whites are much more likely than blacks to "convict" him of the offense. These striking differences in the court of public opinion make me think about juries. How much can you predict a person's response to evidence based on race -- or age or sex or any other characteristic?

In Courtroom 302 (see earlier post), the author reports that race is often the unspoken reason for peremptory challenges, despite Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, Findlaw (1986).
[Judge] Locallo perfunctorily does his duty under Batson, asking one side for race-neutral reasons when the other complains of a racial strike and immediately accepting whatever justification is offered. The judge says later he realized the reasons cited may be contrived. "But I don't think it's my prerogative to say, 'You've given a race-neutral reason; I think it's full of shit.'" . . . Locallo closes the final Batson discussion in nearly one breath, with the court reporter straining to keep up: "Pursuant to Batson versus Kentucky and its progeny the court is required to see if the reaons are race-related or race-neutral and I've considered each of the reasons given by both the state and also defense and I've found race-neutral reasons for the exclusion of those individuals."
Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302, at 262 (2005).

But Bogira also discusses the trial of a black man accused of killing someone with a shank in prison. The jury foreperson was a 44-year-old black man:
McGee . . . says he was stunned to learn, when deliberations began, that not everyone was convinced of [the defendant's] guilt. In fact, the first vote had been nine to three for acquittal, with McGee and two white men comprising the minority, and all six women voting not guilty. "I thought it was gonna be the blacks against the whites," McGee says, "But most of the whites were saying not guilty!"
Id. at 148. So it's much more complex than a simple "blacks support black defendants." In this case, McGee, a postal worker, said "I don't care nothin' for no gangbangers," and apparently did not want to cut this felon any slack.

Graphic: mw.

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