By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Over the weekend, the jury in the George Zimmerman case acquitted the neighborhood watchman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, evidently concluding that the prosecution failed to disprove the Defendant's self-defense claim under Florida law. While there were numerous issues driving interest in this trial -- racial profiling, concealed carry laws, and the stand-your-ground defense among others -- the jury itself carried a special source of fascination for court watchers: It was an all female panel. Rewinding back to the start of the trial, you might recall that this fact generated a fair amount of speculation. Orlando defense attorney Diana Tennis, for example, was quoted in the New York Times suggesting that the women would be more sympathetic to the loss of a child, an association that was echoed widely in the media. Never mind that this maternal status (most had children) could have also made them more sympathetic to losing a child to prison, the scant information on the jurors generally made gender into a commonly referenced filter as the facts emerged in the case: How would the women respond?
The question is: Did this gender homogeneity make a difference in the jury room? The answer, it probably didn't. As Vanderbilt sociology professor Holly McCammon wrote for CNN at the trial's start, "The answer is likely to be that the all-female jury will have little or no effect on the ultimate decision in this case. Research shows that no one juror trait, including gender, is an accurate indicator of how a juror will vote." And it is true that the attitudes jurors carried -- on race, crime, guns, law enforcement, self-defense, and a host of other issues -- likely had a far greater effect on the ultimate decision than the jury's XX or XY chromosome configuration. At the same time and more broadly, that isn't to say that an all-female jury makes no difference. There are a few ways jurors might see the case differently, and especially deliberate differently, due to gender. Since the anonymous Zimmerman jurors aren't talking yet, I thought I would write about a few of those differences.