Mapping the Racial Bias of the White Male Capital Juror: Jury Composition and the “Empathic Divide”


  • This research was generously supported by the National Science Foundation's Law and Social Science Program. We are indebted to the Law & Society Review editors and to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and invaluable suggestions. Please address correspondence to Mona Lynch, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine, 2340 Social Ecology II, Irvine, CA 92697-7080; e-mail:; or Craig Haney, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, 273 Social Sciences 2, Santa Cruz, CA 95064; e-mail:


This article examines the nature of racial bias in the death sentencing process. After reviewing the various general explanations for the continued significance of race in capital cases, we report the results of an empirical study in which some aspects of racially biased death sentencing are examined in depth. Specifically, in a simulated capital penalty-phase trial setting where participants were assigned to small group “juries” and given an opportunity to deliberate, white male jurors were significantly more likely to sentence black defendants to death than were women and nonwhite jurors. This racialized pattern was explained in part by the differential evaluation of the case facts and the perceptions of the defendant that were made by the white male jurors. We discuss these findings in light of social psychological theories of contemporary racism, and we conclude that the demonstrated bias in capital jury settings should be understood as an interaction of several factors, including individual juror characteristics, group-level demographic composition, and group deliberation processes.