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The impact of unconscious bias in the courtroom

| Nov 4, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

Kentucky residents may wonder if unconscious bias in the courtroom could affect judges. This was a question that arose when a protester reacting to a ‘straight pride” parade led to a female defense lawyer being arrested for talking in court.

The parade was organized by individuals who feel that straight people represent an oppressed majority. There was some link between the speakers and far-right organizations. At the parade, there were more counter-protesters than protesters. The event was heavily monitored by law enforcement, and approximately three dozen individuals were arrested.

The prosecutor in the case wanted protesters who were arrested for non-violent offenses and had no criminal background to be released. However, the municipal court judge refused to accept the dismissal of the charges against the protesters. In most cases, it’s the prosecutor, not the judge, who decides if charges should be pursued.

In response to this, the lawyer for the defendants tried to read for the record that the bias of the judge was contrary to well-established law. She focused on a decision from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1991. The judge demanded that the defense attorney stop talking. In response, the judge had the defense attorney arrested and imprisoned. She was released a few hours later.

Some view the actions of the judge as extraordinary or overstepping his boundaries. What has not been discussed is how the judge may have allowed unconscious bias to impact his decision. The human brain has the ability to affect one’s action contrary to what they consciously believe, which can cause people to interpret behaviors and actions in a certain way based on bias.

When a person is charged with a crime, the law provides a mechanism for them to make a criminal defense. The attorneys who carry out this responsibility are an important part of the criminal justice system. A criminal defense attorney’s job is to defend clients whether they are innocent or guilty. The attorney may try to create reasonable doubt that their client was involved in the crime that they were charged with.

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