February 26, 2009

Playing The Race Card Could Get Defendants Off

Making race a focal point during a trial may benefit black defendants in an inter-racial case. This is the finding of a study published online today, 26th February 2009, in the Journal of Legal and Criminological Psychology.

One hundred and 51 white students took part in the study, carried out at the University of New Hampshire, USA, by Donald Bucolo and Professor Ellen S. Cohn. The students were given a mock trial featuring an inter-racial assault, either by a white person on a black person, or black on white and were asked to judge the defendant's guilt.

During the trial, the defence lawyer made statements that emphasized the race of the defendant, e.g. "The only reason the defendant and not the supposed victim is being charged with this crime is because the defendant is black and the victim is white" or vice versa with a white defendant and a black victim.

When race was not emphasized, the white participants in this study were no more likely to find a black defendant guilty than a white defendant. However if the defence lawyer 'played the race card' and highlighted the defendant's race, ratings of guilt were significantly lower for black defendants than for white defendants.

Lead researcher, Donald Bucolo from the University of new Hampshire, said: "Our results suggest that making race a focal point during a trial may have benefits for black defendants in an inter-racial case.

"In today's society where racism and discrimination are not acceptable, white people actively avoid appearing racist. It's therefore quite likely that playing the race card reminds white jurors that their decision could make them appear prejudiced so they respond by being more lenient towards a black defendant."

The study also compared the white juror's racial prejudice and compared this to their ratings of guilt of black and white defendants.

Results show that highly prejudiced participants were not only anti-black, but were also pro-white. They were more likely to find black defendants guilty, and less likely to find a white defendant guilty in each case.

British Psychological Society

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