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IAALS Online National Conversations About Continuous Improvement of the American legal System

Implicit Bias in Our Courts: From Juries to Judicial Performance Evaluation

Zachary Willis Posted in Quality Judges

Richard Gabriel, president of the American Society of Trial Consultants Foundation and president of Decision Analysis, a national trial consulting company, recently penned an article for CNN following the conclusion of the George Zimmerman trial. In the article, Gabriel characterized bias in the justice system as a product of everyone’s natural “tendency to judge members of your own group more favorably and others more harshly.” This implicit bias has the ability to permeate our thought processes, outside our awareness, even when we consciously strive for the values of fairness and equality. Such biases lend credence to the argument for diverse juries, who make “better decisions because the different perspectives [make] them more thorough and less likely to make factual errors,” and a stronger awareness of how biases affect other aspects of our courts.

Gabriel referenced several reports that examine potential biases in the justice system, including IAALS’ Leveling the Playing Field: Gender, Ethnicity, and Judicial Performance Evaluation, which explores whether there is evidence that implicit biases enter into evaluations of judges’ performances. The results of the study confirmed the perceived high quality of state judges, but also identified a few areas in which minority and women judges are rated lower than Caucasian and male judges. The report lays out several steps that can be taken to limit the effects of potential implicit biases on judicial performance evaluations, calling on state program administrators, experts, bar associations, and court systems to take action.