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How Juror Bias Can Affect Criminal Trials

Jul 10, 2017 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

We all have biases – preferences for one thing or prejudices against another. They are deeply held beliefs about people, groups, and things. They can be about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and countless other characteristics or factors. In some situations, we have conscious biases. These are explicit prejudices we know that we have. But we all have unconscious biases as well. These are prejudices we aren’t aware of, affecting decisions in ways we don’t consciously realize.

Both conscious and unconscious biases matter a great deal for juries in criminal trials. While a trial should be decided on the facts, how people see one another and how they interpret the facts can differ significantly based on their individual biases. That is why jurors who have seen the same evidence can often disagree about the appropriate verdict. If you are currently facing criminal charges and want to move forward with a jury trial, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer, who understands how bias may impact your case and how to work around the negative effects of juror bias.

Call (559) 443-7442 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a skilled Fresno criminal defense attorney.

Research Consistently Finds Juror Bias Impacts Outcome of Trials

Over the years, research into explicit and implicit bias has found people’s prejudices can have a significant impact on the outcome of criminal trials. Some of the ways bias can affect criminal trials includes:

  • How jurors see defendants. Certain biases can make jurors more or less sympathetic to a particular defendant. The most obvious example is race. Some white jurors may be predisposed to believe a black defendant is guilty. However, similar issues can arise based on a number of personal characteristics, including gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation.
  • How jurors interpret evidence. Jurors will hear a great deal of testimony and may see physical evidence like firearms, pictures, and videos. Their biases can affect whether they believe what they hear or see and how much weight they give it. One juror may believe a witness’ testimony while another juror may have doubts about it. Or these same jurors may believe the testimony is true, but have different opinions on how much it matters.
  • Whether there is enough evidence to convict. The standard for a criminal conviction is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, what this means in an actual case differs to different people. Due to a juror’s beliefs and prejudices, they may feel the evidence they heard at trial is enough to convict while another juror may believe it is not enough to prove guilt.

The Voir Dire Process Looks for Bias

During the jury selection portion of a trial (called the voir dire process), one of the goals is to identify juror bias. During voir dire, both the prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys ask potential jurors questions that are meant to gauge whether they have any relevant prejudices that would impact their ability to review the evidence fairly. Each side wants jurors who can be objective and fair – or at least jurors whose biases would lead to a verdict in their favor and not against the weight of the evidence.

Yet the voir dire process only goes so far. It does not directly address jurors’ unconscious biases. A video created and used in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is seeking to change that. Since March 2017, an 11-minute video is shown to jurors at the federal courthouses in Seattle and Tacoma. It is intended to complement the traditional voir dire process and directly discuss biases that could affect the juror’s thought process and judgment during trial. Whether or not jurors are shown the video is up to the judge. Some judges have welcomed it while others have not.

Whether the video helps or mitigates the effects of jurors’ biases remains to be seen. However, many view it as a step in the right direction, finally starting a conversation that needs to be had.

Are You Facing Criminal Charges?

If you are facing criminal charges and may have to go through a trial, contact an experienced Fresno criminal defense attorney at Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer as soon as possible. You may not know much about how unconscious juror bias could affect your case, but we do. We can review your situation and create a strategy to address prejudice during the voir dire process. We will do our best to mitigate how potential biases could negatively affect your trial.

Contact us online or call us at (559) 443-7442 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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