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Peremptory Challenges

A problem with relying on stereotypes for jury selection is this: What if a prosecutor were to use peremptory challenges to exclude from the jury all whites, blacks, Latinos, or Asians or all men or all women, possibly stripping the jury of the defendant’s peers? In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has for the first time limited the use of peremptory challenges to prevent lawyers from systematically excluding prospective jurors on the basis of race. According to the Court, judges can now require lawyers suspected of discriminating in this way to explain the basis of their challenges.

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Citing social psychological research on stereotyping and prejudice, Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton (2008) point to two problems: (1) The influence of conscious and unconscious racial stereotypes on social perceptions is preva- lent and likely to influence lawyers in the courtroom and (2) these racial biases are difficult to identify in specific instances because lawyers, like everyone else, typically do not acknowledge having been influenced by their stereotypes. In a study that illustrated both points, Sommers and Norton (2007) presented col- lege students, law students, and attorneys with a summary of a criminal trial involving a black defendant and asked them to choose between two prospective jurors with various characteristics—one white, the other black. As predicted, all groups were far more likely to challenge the juror who was black rather than the one who was white, yet very few subjects cited race as a factor in their decisions.

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