Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Attorney empowerment in Voir Dire and the racial composition of juries

Lehmann, Jee-Yeon and Smith, Jeremy (2011): Attorney empowerment in Voir Dire and the racial composition of juries.

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Abstract

Giving attorneys more power in the voir dire (jury selection) process may allow them to 1) find grounds for dismissal of jurors whom they wish to strike on a priori grounds; 2) acquire information that enables them to identify favorably-inclined jurors more precisely; or both. Attorneys who are more skilled can better use such increased power to retain the jurors they prefer. We show theoretically that, because defense attorneys prefer non-white jurors a priori, the interaction of empowerment and defense attorney skill should produce juries with a greater proportion of non-whites if only the first mechanism is operative, but need not have this effect if the second is operative. We then examine these issues using a detailed dataset on all non-capital felony trials in four large and diverse counties over a two-year period. We find that skilled and empowered attorneys can indeed stack juries by retaining jurors predisposed to their side at a greater rate, and that the distribution of relative attorney skill in our data is such that defendants benefit on average. However, we find that empowerment has a small and insignificant impact on the racial composition of the seated jury, regardless of attorney skill.

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