North Carolina Jury Sunshine Project findings now available for journalists covering 2018 elections
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Office of Communications and Public Relations
July 30, 2018
Wake Forest Law Professors Ron Wright, Kami Chavis and Gregory Parks have collected statistics about felony trial jury selection across North Carolina’s 100 counties as part of their research regarding jury selection. This overall research effort is known as the “Jury Sunshine Project.”
The researchers have produced a database — the first of its kind — of jury selection outcomes in felony trials in all 100 counties of North Carolina.
In a recent “Criminal Injustice” podcast interview, Wright explained his motive for starting this research: “I am interested in prosecutors and I am interested in who looks over their shoulders. It’s weird that prosecutors get to choose their own bosses.”
Wake Forest Law is making this database available for journalists to analyze the performance of elected officials (prosecutors and judges) in each district in the state. Contact Wright for access to each county’s data.
HOW CAN JOURNALISTS USE THIS RESEARCH TO COVER THE 2018 PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE ELECTIONS?
There are some communities in North Carolina where prosecutors and judges remove minority jurors at a higher rate than they remove white jurors. Furthermore, some prosecutors and judges pursue this practice more often than prosecutors or judges do in other parts of the state. How well do your local prosecutors or judges protect the Constitutional right to have jury of your peers?
These jury selection practices not only affect the rights of criminal defendants; skewed jury composition also excludes important parts of the community from jury duty. When citizens don’t see their neighbors and peers chosen regularly to serve on juries, they become less likely to accept the outcome of trials as legitimate. We live in a healthier world if every neighborhood takes part in criminal trials.
The Jury Sunshine Project data will allow journalists to compare the performance of prosecutors and judges in different portions of the state.
It is constitutionally improper to use race or gender as a basis for removing a potential juror from sitting on a trial jury. According to statewide data, however, race does appear to be a factor when prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges remove potential jurors from the initial random panel.
In an academic publication that appears in print later this year (“Jury Selection Patterns as a Political Issue”), Professor Wright and his co-authors make the following observations about jury selection:
Women and men serve on felony trial juries at about the same rate.
Prosecutors remove twice as many potential black jurors at trial as white jurors (20 percent of available black jurors compared with 10 percent of available white jurors).
Judges remove 14 percent of available black jurors compared with 10 percent of available white jurors.
Defense attorneys remove white jurors more often: they exclude 22 percent of the available white jurors versus 10 percent of the available black jurors.
The differences in removal rates are different for urban and rural districts, with racial disparities larger on average in urban districts.
The differences in removal rates are different from some urban districts than for other urban districts: the largest disparities occur in Charlotte, Durham, and Winston-Salem, while smaller disparities happen in Fayetteville, Greensboro, and Raleigh.
Juries with more black males tend to acquit the defendant more often, all other things being equal.
Juries with more white males tend to convict the defendant more often, all other things being equal.
Juries with more black females tend to acquit more often, but only slightly; juries with more white females do not tend to acquit or convict any more often than the overall pool of trials.
SCOPE OF THE PROJECT
More than 100 volunteer researchers contributed to the data that makes up the Jury Sunshine Project. The heart of the data covers more than 1,300 felony trials in North Carolina in 2011. Smaller data collections allow for updates and comparisons in some North Carolina counties for 2016 and for selected counties in Minnesota.
The collection of jury selection data will continue. The project will cover longer time periods in North Carolina and eventually will extend to complete coverage of other states. Professor Wright and Assistant Professor Francis Flanagan of the Wake Forest University Department of Economics received a grant in July 2016 to support their data collection in Minnesota. The project, “Do Peremptory Challenges Increase Bias on Juries?” received funding from the Law and Social Sciences Program of the National Science Foundation in July 2016.
HERE ARE THE RESOURCES WE CAN PUT INTO YOUR HANDS TO ANALYZE YOUR OWN COMMUNITY OR COVERAGE AREA:
We offer journalists the following access to the data collected for the Jury Sunshine Project:
Immediate access to file data collected from North Carolina trials in 2011 about jurors (race, gender, age, zip code, and disposition at trial), criminal defendants, charge characteristics, trial outcome, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.
Access to file data from selected urban counties in North Carolina for trials in 2016.
Access later in 2016 to file data from selected counties in Minnesota for comparison purposes.
We also offer to consult with journalists about the best ways to analyze the data, providing template reports for individual counties or districts.
ABOUT THE RESEARCHERS
Ron Wright is Wake Forest University School of Law’s former Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and the law school’s Needham Yancey Gulley Professor of Criminal Law. He teaches criminal procedure, criminal law, and evidence. He is the co-author of two casebooks in criminal procedure and sentencing; his empirical research concentrates on the work of criminal prosecutors. Prior to joining the faculty, he was a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, prosecuting antitrust and other white-collar criminal cases.
Kami Chavis, a professor of law and founding director of Wake Forest Law’s Criminal Justice Program, is the Wake Forest University Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives. In 2015, she was appointed as a Senior Academic Fellow at the Joint Center for Political And Economic Studies. She writes about and teaches in areas related to criminal law, criminal procedure, and criminal justice reform. Prior to joining the faculty, she worked as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, involving her in a wide range of criminal prosecutions.
Gregory Parks is Wake Forest Law’s Associate Dean of Research, Public Engagement, and Faculty Development and a professor of law, whose research focuses on both race and law issues as well as social science and law issues. His work, to date, has specifically focused on what implicit (automatic/unconscious) attitudes and biases portend for the law. Prior to joining the faculty, he practiced in Trial Group in the Washington, D.C., office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.
Francis Flanagan is an assistant professor of economics at Wake Forest University. His teaching and research interests include microeconomic theory, law and economics, matching theory, and market design. He is the author of “Peremptory Challenges and Jury Selection,” which was published in May 2015 the Journal of Law and Economics by the University of Chicago Press.