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The Inherent Bias of Law

Updated January 5, 2022
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The Inherent Bias of Law essay

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The United States legal system prides itself on the equal process of justice for all suspects and defendants, ensuring that any individual accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. From afar, the legal system seems to do its job efficiently; the implementation of a jury eliminates biased rulings and laws against police misconduct and brutality ensure that all individuals are treated in a just manner. However, at a closer look, one can determine that the justice system is not as colorblind and objective as it makes itself out to be.

With the legal system’s history of wrongful imprisonments, subjective judges or juries, and overall police misconduct, it is shown that bias, whether intentional or not, is prevalent in the judicial process. This knowledge then raises the question; can law be applied objectively, or will there always be some form of bias or prejudice? This essay will explore how the legal system is inherently racially biased through the justice system’s use of laws and technology, society’s prejudice, and the justification of racism through science.

Throughout the last few decades, many laws have been passed in an effort to reduce judicial bias; however, these seemingly colorblind laws merely disguise the reality of a racial “caste system.” As Alexander states in The New Jim Crow, even though the laws are ostensibly colorblind, society cannot pretend that law treats every individual the same because not every crime is the same. The racial bias present in the justice system is hidden by these colorblind laws, making it extremely easy for officials to disregard and defend any claims of racial prejudice. In order to challenge racial bias, one needs evidence that racial discrimination was intentionally committed, and the judicial system is wired in a way that eliminates any evidence of such actions.

Alexander argues that law enforcement officials have complete discretion when it comes to stopping and searching individuals, thus eliminating any proof of racial bias because the judicial system can argue that the action was not motivated by race (Alexander 100). This method of policing leaves little to no evidence of racial bias, therefore allowing the judicial system to rationalize and disguise its inherent racial prejudice. Judicial bias can also occur through police and law official technology, specifically as a result of predictive policing software, or PredPol. Though on the surface this form of crime prediction and data collection seems helpful in reducing crime rates, the statistics and data it gathers is “systematically skewed” (Wang 250).

The data PredPol relies on is gathered based on where previous crimes have been committed, and because law officials are more likely to police neighborhoods that primarily consist of people of color, the statistics presented to the software are already racially skewed. Though crime prediction data collection itself seems relatively colorblind, the data given to PredPol could actually increase the amount of racialized police practices. Individuals who commit crimes in areas that are not heavily policed by law officials will not create any data, and because of this, PredPol will not be able to predict crimes in that area (Wang 248).

The areas where PredPol predicts the most crime will have the highest amount of policing, and if the data presented to the database are only areas populated by people of color, racially motivated bias by law officials will continue. Though new technologies such as crime prediction are created with an objective state of mind, the judicial system’s inherent bias prevents such colorblindness. In order for law to be applied objectively, society must trace racial bias back to its root; the justice system.

Though bias is held in the judicial system itself, society is also partly responsible for the subjectivity of law. In his Counter-Colonial Criminology, Agozino looks at cases of crime in colonial situations and argues that it was “utilitarian” to punish someone, innocent or not, in order to satisfy society’s “desire for revenge” (Agozino 18). Drawing parallels to today’s society, one can conclude that societal bias and the desire for vengeance results in many cases of injustice. More often than not, society’s collective bias has favored a certain group of individuals and has resulted in the imprisonment of innocent people. This rush-to-judgement mindset becomes extremely detrimental when electing members of the jury.

The elected jurors for a criminal case are essentially the individuals who send a suspect to jail; members of the jury use evidence given to them by prosecutors in order to reach a verdict of guilty or not guilty for the crime accused. This particular “desire for revenge” mindset, according to Agozino, can result in the jury wrongfully punishing the innocent. Suppose a heinous crime was committed, such as a mass shooting. Using Agozino’s argument, due to the extremely high profile of this crime, society will search for a person to punish, even if the evidence does not entirely prove this individual is the shooter. This rush to judgement and the jury’s failure to analyze evidence in an objective manner can ultimately result in punishment of the innocent.

Though in many cases, society and jurors in general are responsible for some forms of bias, a good amount of prejudice lies in the hands of prosecutors. According to Alexander, many prosecutors find it beneficial to achieve an all-white jury in cases against individuals of color because it would result in a higher probability of conviction (Alexander 118). Though there is a law preventing discrimination in jury selection, many prosecutors still manage to achieve an all-white jury as long as the selection process is not obvious. Prosecutors searching for a predominately white jury practice “jury shuffling,” which allows lawyers to rearrange the order of prospective jurors, permitting the prosecution to have some influence in the “random” selection (Alexander 118).

The ability of the prosecution to get away with eliminating sympathetic jurors only increases the bias present in trials. An all-white jury will not be as sympathetic and as a result are more likely to convict a defendant who is a person of color. Since the prosecution is able to take advantage of society’s predetermined biases against individuals of different races, the prejudice present in the legal system only continues. For these reasons, it is correct to conclude that the legal system’s bias rests not only in the hands of the law, but also in the hands of society as a whole.

Steering away from bias rooted in the justice system and society as a whole, the justification of racism through science also plays a crucial role in the prejudicial practices of law. Many of the biases and judgements individuals hold against those of color can be explained and “justified” through scientific discoveries and medical journals. These justifications of racism result in the justification of biased law itself; the partisan views and actions committed by the legal system can be rationalized through these discoveries, and as a result, the justice system can get away with its prejudices. Throughout her article, Rattansi discusses the correlation between medical records and a person of color’s anatomy.

For example, she describes how science itself was used to justify racism through brain weight and skull size measurements. In her Racism: A Very Short Introduction, Rattansi explores how the size and weight of a woman’s brain was found to be similar to those of individuals of non-Caucasian races, and therefore, women, along with other minorities, were seen as intellectually inferior to their white male counterparts (Rattansi 33). In addition, women and minorities themselves were also found to be irrationally impulsive and emotional, and the government used these studies to “justify” not giving this particular demographic full citizen status and political rights (Rattansi 33). Through these medical discourses, the legal system can justify its racism by arguing that these beliefs are scientifically noted, though they might not necessarily be correct or relevant to the crime committed.

Separate from physical and biological characteristics, the law is also able to justify its racism through data and scientific correlation between higher imprisonment rates and an individual’s criminal nature. According to Wang, the data gathered through crime statistics was strategically used to compare an individual’s race with their criminality (Wang 249). Specifically, Wang argues that these statistics were used to argue that black individuals are more likely to commit a crime than people of European descent and that the higher imprisonment rates of individuals of color were used to justify the idea that black individuals have an innate criminal nature (Wang 249).

In this way, the law is able to justify its biased and discriminatory actions against individuals of color because there is a “scientific” correlation between an individual’s blackness and the population’s criminality and incarceration rates. Employees of the law, such as prosecutors and police officials, can use these statistics to defend their prejudicial actions against minorities, and thus, the bias and unjust ways of law will only continue. All in all, these statistics and medical records make it incredibly easy for law and the judicial system itself to disregard its racial practices, as the actions committed can be justified through these aforementioned discoveries.

Though it is nearly impossible to rid law of all bias and subjectivity, there are ways the judicial system can limit these prejudices. Racial bias is one of the most prevalent forms of bias present in the legal system, and by finding a way to limit this form of prejudice, the judicial system as a whole can start to become more objective. Since the most influential members of any judicial case are the jury, discovering a way to manage the bias present in these individuals could be extremely beneficial in working to limit prejudices present in the legal system.

In order to obtain a more subjective criminal proceeding, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike should make an effort to diversify the selection of members of the jury. Selecting a jury made up of many people of different backgrounds and ethnicities will help reduce the likelihood of groupthink, an error that could easily happen with a jury composed of predominantly one race. In addition, juries composed of many different ethnicities will likely be more sympathetic with defendants of color on trial, therefore potentially reducing the overall bias among the jurors. Another way the legal system can reduce its bias is through blinding cases brought to prosecutors. For cases in which race is irrelevant to the crime, blinding a case can effectively eliminate a prosecutor’s bias because the ethnicity of the suspect is not shown.

In this way, sentences given by prosecutors are based solely on the crime committed; the prosecution cannot infer a race and as a result cannot give a racially biased charge to the defendant. Many crimes are not related to an individual’s race, so blinding case files for prosecutors will ultimately help reduce unconscious biases and result in a more partial and objective trial process. Obviously, for crimes in which race is relevant, the race of the suspect and/or victim will be shown, however, cases should be blinded wherever feasible in order to substantially limit the unconscious biases of prosecutors. Though implementing these practices into the legal system will not completely eliminate racial bias, it is a step in the right direction.

Bias and prejudice are a part of human nature; the judgement of one group individuals who are different from another is almost inevitable. Though not all bias present in today’s legal system is intentional, the prejudicial actions of law officials and the government itself is prevalent in the judicial process. Though there are laws meant to manage the bias present in the judicial process, they are often overlooked, as many prosecutors and police officials can “stretch” the laws and more often than not are able to get away with it.

Technologies such as PredPol, medical journals, and statistics overall contribute to the ongoing injustices committed by the legal system. Many of the prejudicial and bias practices the legal system employs stem from past discrimination and partial ideologies society held in the past. The legal system itself was built around these predetermined prejudices, and as a result, the judicial processes present today arise from a pillar of bias and unjust rulings and practices. With this knowledge, society can argue that perhaps the greatest crimes are not those perpetrated by criminals, but those committed by the legal system itself.

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