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Judges might not realize how unconscious biases drive decisions

People assume that judges strive to act in an objective and deliberative manner when presiding over courts in Minnesota. However, neuroscience and trends in judicial decisions suggest otherwise. Unconscious biases held by judges could make them issue unfair rulings even when they believe that they are acting fairly.

Neuroscience researchers have found that brain activity does not consistently correspond with people’s consciously held beliefs. Their internal unconscious biases tend to color how they view other people’s behaviors or circumstances. In the court room, biases influencing judges have the potential to inflict serious consequences on other people.

When researchers analyze large amounts of data about judicial decisions, they find that judges lean on their intuition more often than objective reasoning. Multiple studies clearly show a judicial bias against African American defendants. People in that demographic receive longer sentences. Most judges deny their biases and insist that they make fair decisions. Their belief that they are fair, however, could increase their vulnerability to unconscious bias.

Recognizing this problem opens the door to reducing the influence of stereotypical thinking. Research indicates that people and organizations can reduce unconscious biases by acknowledging their existence and making a purposeful effort to remain fair in dealings with others, especially people different from themselves.

The representation of a criminal defense attorney might help an individual receive fair treatment in court. An attorney may assert a criminal defendant’s rights and protest mistreatment, especially mistreatment motivated by apparent prejudice. An attorney might challenge decisions that do not reflect the normal or expected outcomes typically received by defendant’s in similar positions. Additionally, an attorney may question overly harsh charges that the evidence does not appear to support and seek a reduction or dismissal of charges.