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Death Row Inmates Allege Racial Bias

 A jury expert at Duke University School of Law filed a friend-of-the-court brief today supporting litigation by more than 115 North Carolina death-row inmates who allege racial bias was involved in their sentences. The challenges are brought under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act.


Professor Neil Vidmar's brief, which was joined by a number of experts in jury behavior from around the country, addresses studies showing that "death-qualified" African Americans -- those who are neither categorically opposed nor predisposed to the imposition of capital punishment -- are routinely excluded from juries in capital trials.

The brief sets forth three key reasons why the "pervasive presence of all-white and predominantly white capital juries in North Carolina" delegitimizes the state's death penalty system:

-- They raise "the very realistic specter that both explicit and subconscious racism could have been present in those trials"; and

-- They affect "the perceived legitimacy of the North Carolina criminal justice system, especially in the eyes of the large African American community in North Carolina, but also in the eyes of white residents and other minority groups."

"I felt it was very important to explain exactly why the racial exclusion of African Americans harms our jury system," said Vidmar, the Russell M. Robinson II Professor of Law at Duke. "The jury is a cornerstone of our democracy. It serves as an institution that provides critical community input into the criminal justice system. When qualified citizens are excluded from serving because of their race, the jury does not function as it is supposed to. Our brief spells out how the jury system is harmed."

A social psychologist by training, Vidmar is a leading expert on jury behavior and outcomes in criminal and civil cases. Among other works, he is the lead author, with Valerie P. Hans, of "American Juries: The Verdict" (Prometheus Books, 2007) and "Judging the Jury" (1986) as well as editor/author of "World Jury Systems," (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Vidmar has testified about jury prejudice and related issues in criminal and civil trials, including cases involving charges of terrorism; he was an expert witness during the trial of John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban." In addition to the United States he has testified or consulted about jury behavior in criminal cases in Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand and Hong Kong.



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