University of Miami Law Review


Racism has left an indelible stain on American history and remains a powerful social force that continues to shape crime and punishment in the contemporary United States. In this article, I discuss the socio-legal construction of race, explore how racism infected American culture, and trace the racist history of capital punishment from the Colonial Era to the present. After framing the death penalty in cultural and historical context, I report original empirical results from one of the largest studies (n = 3,284) of mock juror capital sentencing decisions published to date. My results show that mock jurors who self reported racial biases were 8.8% more likely to pass the death qualification and were 18.3% to 18.4% more likely to sentence a Black defendant to death than a White defendant with all other factors held constant. Death qualifying the mock jury increased the probability of empaneling one or more of these racially biased mock jurors by 8.4%. After reviewing these results in the context of previous research and Supreme Court jurisprudence, I argue that death qualifying a capital jury violates an African American defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury because the death qualification increases the likelihood of empaneling racially biased, partial jurors. Finally, I argue that voir dire fails to provide an adequate safeguard to this threat, argue that the right to inquire into juror racial biases during voir dire should apply more broadly, and make recommendations to improve current voir dire practices.