Sunday, July 27, 2014

Talking About Race in the Courtroom

Racial bias is a difficult subject to talk about in a meaningful way, especially with prospective jurors. As one of the authors of Implicit Bias in the Courtroom, 59 UCLA L.Rev. 1124 (2012), Judge Mark Bennett, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Iowa, has written about his efforts to counter bias in the courtroom. 

During jury selection, Judge Bennett spends time talking with the venire about implicit bias. He then asks each juror to take the following pledge, which is also posted on the wall of his courtroom,
I will not decide this case based on biases. This includes gut feelings, prejudices, stereotypes, personal likes or dislikes, sympathies or generalizations.
The Judge's jury instructions include,
Do not decide the case on 'implicit biases.' As we discussed in jury selection, everyone, including me, has feelings, assumptions, perceptions, fears, and stereotypes, that is, 'implicit biases', that we may not be aware of. These hidden thoughts can impact what we see and hear, and how we make important decisions. Because you are making very important decisions in this case, I strongly encourage you to evaluate the evidence carefully and to resist jumping to conclusions based on personal likes or dislikes, generalizations, gut feelings, prejudices, sympathies, stereotypes, or biases. The law demands that you return a just verdict, based solely on the evidence, your individual evaluation of that evidence, your reason and common sense, and these instructions. Our system of justice is counting on you to render a fair decision based on the evidence, not on biases.
And there is more. In the course of talking with the potential jurors, the Judge shows a clip from an ABC show, What Would You Do?, recording passers-by varied reactions to a white man, a black man, and then a young white woman trying to force open a bike lock, 


 The article closes,
We recognize that our suggestions are starting points, that they may not all work, and that, even as a whole, they may not be sufficient. But we do think they are worth a try. We hope that judges and other stakeholders in the justice system agree. 
 

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