Unconscious bias could affect criminal trial outcomes

| Nov 13, 2019 | Criminal Defense

Whether conscious or unconscious, the effects of a judge’s bias can be highly damaging for people facing criminal charges in Maryland. Researchers have probed the issue of unconscious bias, a form of bias or stereotyping that is an aspect of the subconscious mind rather than conscious thought. In many cases, people’s unconscious biases may be entirely opposed to their conscious, thoughtful choices and beliefs. According to neuroscientists, there is a strong biological basis for the concept of unconscious bias. The human brain is complex, and certain factors can lead to a greater impact of these types of unconscious biases and pervasive social ideas.

In particular, unconscious bias is more important when it is held by a person with a significant amount of power or authority over others’ lives, such as a judge in a criminal trial. Research has indicated that judges are actually less likely to rely on a deliberative process when making decisions and more likely to go with their intuition, leading to a much greater risk of influence from unconscious biases. Judges also report that they are firmly convinced of their abilities to make unbiased and objective decisions. This can also pose a greater risk because people who believe strongly in their own objectivity are less likely to interrogate the factors that inform their decision-making.

For black defendants in particular, the toll of unconscious bias can be significant. Statistics show that black defendants are likely to be given harsher bail requirements or be held in pre-trial detention. They are also more likely to face stiffer sentences than white defendants accused of similar crimes.

Bias is another factor that can make negotiating the criminal justice system even more perilous for a person facing charges. A criminal defense attorney may help people to challenge prosecution allegations and work to prevent a conviction.