This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Supreme Court Case on Racial Bias Is All About Jury Demographics

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado. NPR gives us the background, the essence of which is this: An Hispanic man in Colorado was accused in 2010 of molesting two girls at a race track where he trained horses. Although one of his co-workers testified that he was elsewhere at the time, he was nonetheless convicted of misdemeanor charges (albeit not the more serious felony charges) by a jury that apparently was influenced by one of its members who was a former policeman and clearly had racist views:
With the trial judge's permission, the lawyers then obtained affidavits from the jurors, in which the jurors quoted H.C. as saying that, from his experience as an ex-policeman, he knew that the defendant was guilty "because he's Mexican" and "Mexican men ... think they can 'do whatever they want' with women," and that where he used to patrol, "nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls."
The affidavits also quoted H.C. as saying that the alibi witness was not credible because, among other things, he was "an illegal."
In fact, the witness had testified at trial that he was a legal resident of the United States.
Mr. Peña-Rodriguez appealed his sentence to the Colorado Supreme Court, which turned him down on the grounds that jury deliberations cannot be part of the appeals process. So, he took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court which seemed to look favorably on his argument and it seems at least possible that that they will reverse the conviction.

All of this probably would have been avoided had there actually been a jury of his peers in the courtroom in Arapahoe County, Colorado. I've been looking at these issues for a long time, as I've noted before, and using data from IPUMS-USA, provided by the University of Minnesota Population Centers, I just calculated that in 2010 the percent of the jury-eligible population of that county  (i.e., 18 or older, a U.S. citizen, who speaks English well) that was Hispanic was 10%. Thus, at least one of the jurors should have been Hispanic, had this truly been a jury of his peers. And, of course, had there been an Hispanic on the jury, the racist comments probably would not have been uttered, Mr. Peña-Rodriguez might have been acquitted, and SCOTUS could have been saved a lot of time and trouble.

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