Do racial stereotypes influence verdicts?

Two photos of an armed robbery reveal masked gunmen. They are identical except for the color of their skin. Who is guilty?
According to a study recently unveiled by researchers at the University of Hawaii, people are more likely to judge a black person guilty over a white person.
Participants watched a photo slideshow of an armed Mini Mart robbery and read a list of ambiguous evidence against the defendant. Here's an example:
"Evidence presented at trial includes the following: the defendant was a youth Golden Gloves boxing champ in 2006, the defendant purchased an un-traceable handgun three weeks before the robbery, the defendant is a member of an anti-violence organization, and the defendant had a used movie ticket stub for a show that started 20 minutes before the crime occurred."
The final slides revealed the following photos of the gunmen:
Thumbnail image for Racial Bias Top2.jpgThumbnail image for Racial Bias Bottom.jpg
After looking over these images, participants were more likely to conclude the black defendant was guiltier than the white defendant - by 66.97 to 56.37, respectively - on a scale of 0 to 100.
"If jurors are unable to evaluate trial evidence without the intrusion of harmful racial stereotypes," the researchers concluded, "racial justice in the legal system and beyond is surely not at hand."
Considering that 60 percent of Illinois Department of Corrections inmates are black, compared to 28 percent who are white, it sure makes you wonder: Can racial biases explain the disparities in our criminal justice system?
--Catherine Newhouse

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