Does Unconscious Racial Bias Affect Trial Judges
Guthrie, Chris, 1967-
Rachlinski, Jeffrey John
Johnson, Sheri Lynn
Wistrich, Andrew J.
Race matters in the criminal justice system. Black defendants appear to fare worse than similarly situated white defendants. Why? Implicit bias is one possibility. Researchers, using a well-known measure called the implicit association test, have found that most white Americans harbor implicit bias toward Black Americans. Do judges, who are professionally committed to egalitarian norms, hold these same implicit biases? And if so, do these biases account for racially disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system? We explored these two research questions in a multi-part study involving a large sample of trial judges drawn from around the country. Our results - which are both discouraging and encouraging - raise profound issues for courts and society. We find that judges harbor the same kinds of implicit biases as others; that these biases can influence their judgment; but that given sufficient motivation, judges can compensate for the influence of these biases.