Bias among jurors?


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Bias among jurors?


bbc_the_verdict_jury.jpg
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Implicit biases

Implicit attitudes are more unconscious than the outward explicit attitudes that we are aware of and often express. An implicit bias is therefore a discriminatory bias that stems from our implicit feelings or stereotypes about a specific group. These biases are not something we may even realize we have but they relate to several groups and categories that people may or may not but put into including nationality, social/ economic status, gender...etc. An excerpt from Anna Roberts' work about the "Detection and Disinfection of Implicit Juror Bias" is provided by (http://racism.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1408:may041207&catid=136&Itemid=155) and provided me with a more specific example of implicit racial bias by saying, "strong levels of implicit racial bias relating to African-Americans have drawn the most attention. African-Americans, for example, are stereotypically linked to crime and violence; their behavior is more likely to be viewed as violent, hostile, and aggressive than is the behavior of whites; and they are more readily associated with weapons than are whites."

Although the work that is cited by Anna Roberts is more centered around law than science, it raises interesting questions on whether bias is testable, especially if the jurors themselves do know even realize their own implicit attitudes and the effects they have on their decisions.

In an article published in 2007 by BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6746221.stm), researchers attempt to find an answer on whether or not verdicts were affected by racism. The study was done in the United Kingdom and taken over 4 years regarding who was called to serve and what verdicts they deliberated on. It is important to note that the article states several times that the study "did not answer whether all-white juries also do not discriminate," because in the juries in the study had minorities in them.

The Study and Results

The study was over 4 years and looked at the verdicts of 16,000 jurors in Reading, London, and Manchester. The study even included a case that was reenacted a case and changed only the race of the defendant. In the 27 juries that watched the case, the juries that were racially mixed, meaning minorities were represented, they did not discriminate against the defendants, but in some individual jurors did let the race influence their personal verdict. The author of the study said the study needed to be taken further and examine "all white juries" because for the most part those are the juries that make a lot of the decisions in the UK, although in 2001 Lord Justice Auld suggested tat minorities are better represented. In addition, the study provides support that it is vital to have 12 jurors in a jury so " 'Jury verdicts are the result of the process of group consensus and it appears the dynamics of these racially mixed juries helped to ensure that any individual jury biases were not allowed to dictate the verdicts of these juries.' " I have read in blogs before that "Groupthink" meaning the extremity of group decisions have a negative influence on decisions, but I think in the case of this study it is shown that the group, if represented by a balance of different types of people (varying by status, race, gender, etc) that decisions can be as unbiased or at least nondiscriminatory as possible.

San Diego Study

Although the study done in the UK claims to be a "myth buster" of many theories on implicit racism in juries, I still doubt that it is an all inclusive and decisive study. On this website (http://criminaldefenselawcorp.com/implicit-racism-may-explain-the-disproportionate-incarceration-rates-of-minorities/) an article written by two law professors entitled "The Impact of Implicit Racial Bias on the Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion" and goes on to talk about several studies pertaining to the criminal courts in San Diego and the significant difference in the United States as a whole when it comes to the incarceration of minorities. As I stated at the beginning of this blog referencing the work of Anna Roberts, she highlights the immense discrimination African-Americans faces through both implicit and explicit racism. This article also talks about the fact that "1 in every 29 black adults is currently subject to incarceration in a jail or prison whereas only 1 in 194 white adults is subject to incarceration." Although explicit racism has been reduced in many ways, the unconscious way in which minorities are looked upon in the courts is clearly a problem. It goes on to list all the possible situations in which even a small bias can change a verdict:

    •    "The decision to charge the defendant
    •    Judgment about the bail amount or whether to oppose bail
    •    Decision regarding the choice of criminal charges
    •    Considerations of whether to drop the charges or agree to diversion
    •    Choosing to offer a plea deal and the nature of that plea agreement
    •    Deciding whether to challenge a potential minority juror
    •    Determining sentencing recommendations"


The article references studies showing a higher likelihood of charging African-Americans with formal charges, primed with even a quick picture of a "dark skinned black man" stereotypes were triggered in the jurors, and merely changing the name of a defendants changed the decision of a juror. It is amazing that is study is drastically different from the study in the UK but perhaps that was because the UK study did not include all-white juries and the fact that cross-culture research often shows discrepancies in results.

Although explicit racism has been fought against for decades, I think the focus now needs to shift to the impact of implicit and unconscious racism in juries and in society in general. The juror example provides a small window of incite on a problem that could be widespread across many areas of society. Do you think it is something that can be fixed? Is it innate? In my opinion, there are definitely ways to decrease it and further study methods could get to the root of the problem or at least takes strides to reduce it. In class it is often stressed that the more research is done and the more variables tested, the stronger the hypothesis can or cannot be refuted. I think in this case, it is imperative that we find a way to reduce the implicit racism existing in nations throughout the world.


1 Comment

I think this post is really interesting because it is so pertinent to today. Each year we hear of a certain crime or case that is blown out of proportion and is the "hot topic" for an extended period of time. Throughout this, I always think how the jury feels, how the news may shape their decisions, and more importantly, how their SUBCONSCIOUS beliefs may shape their decision. To answer the question directly, "is it something can be fixed?" (in regards to racism), I may be a pessimist but I truly believe it will be something that will never go away. Unfortunately, stereotyping is such a common thing, that often times it goes unnoticed, even to the person stereotyping. In short, I think racism is an evil that has been reduced, and will continue to be reduced, but will never, ever fully go away.

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