How unconscious bias may affect a judge's decisions

Some judges in West Virginia may be guided in their decisions by unconscious bias, and this could hurt defendants. Unconscious bias occurs when one is prejudiced against a group even when this goes against their conscious feelings about the group. Since research suggests that many judges use their intuition more than logic to make judgments, unconscious bias could have a far-reaching effect.

Unconscious bias may have been at play in a case that involved counterprotesters at a far-right "straight pride" parade in Massachusettes. There were more counterprotesters than actual participants in the parade, and a total of three dozen people were taken into custody. The district attorney wanted charges dismissed against those who were facing charges for nonviolent offenses and did not have criminal records. However, the judge refused.

While this refusal was unusual on its own, it was compounded by what the judge did next. The attorney for one of the defendants attempted to address the precedent that the judge was going against, but the judge told her to stop talking. When she continued, she was also taken into custody for several hours. Critics claim that both of these decisions may have been the result of an unconscious bias against the LGBT community.

Someone who is facing charges for drugs, weapons offenses, white-collar crimes or any other offenses may want to work with a defense attorney. While it might not be possible to prove unconscious bias, the attorney could look at whether law enforcement observed the defendant's rights. For example, the person's home may have been searched without probable cause or a warrant. If the defendant's rights were violated, the case could be dismissed. In some cases, the defendant might choose not to go to trial and instead plead guilty to lesser charges. This could result in reduced penalties.

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