Can Explicit Instructions Reduce Expressions of Implicit Bias? New Questions Following a Test of a Specialized Jury Instruction

30 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2014

See all articles by Jennifer Elek

Jennifer Elek

National Center for State Courts

Paula Hannaford Agor

National Center for State Courts; William & Mary Law School

Date Written: April 28, 2014

Abstract

Judges, lawyers, and court staff have long recognized that explicit, or consciously endorsed, racial prejudices have no place in the American justice system. However, more subtle biases or prejudices can operate automatically, without awareness, intent, or conscious control. Members of the court community are beginning to identify this subtler form of racial bias, or implicit racial bias, as a partial explanation for persistent racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In the absence of empirically vetted interventions, some judges have created and currently use their own specialized jury instructions in hopes of minimizing expressions of such bias in juror judgment. However, depending on how these instructions are crafted, they may produce unintended, undesirable effects (e.g., by increasing expressions of bias against socially disadvantaged group members among certain types of individuals, or by making jurors feel more confident about their decision(s) without actually reducing expressions of bias in judgment). To prevent the distribution and implementation of jury instructions that may do more harm than good, any instruction of this kind must be carefully evaluated.

In the present study, the authors sought to examine the efficacy of one specialized implicit bias jury instruction. Mock jurors who received the specialized instruction evaluated the strength of the defense’s case in subtly different ways from those who received a control instruction, but the instruction did not appear to significantly influence juror verdict preference, confidence, or sentence severity. Interestingly, the authors were unable to replicate with this sample the traditional baseline pattern of juror bias observed in other similar studies (c.f., Sommers & Ellsworth, 2000; Sommers & Ellsworth, 2001), which prevented a complete test of the value of the instructional intervention. Authors address several possible explanations for this failure to replicate, explore the possibility of shifts in cultural awareness and in the spontaneous correction for bias, and discuss implications for future work.

Keywords: juror, implicit bias, jury instructions

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Elek, Jennifer and Agor, Paula Hannaford, Can Explicit Instructions Reduce Expressions of Implicit Bias? New Questions Following a Test of a Specialized Jury Instruction (April 28, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2430438 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2430438

Jennifer Elek (Contact Author)

National Center for State Courts ( email )

300 Newport Ave.
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States
757-259-1836 (Phone)

Paula Hannaford Agor

National Center for State Courts ( email )

300 Newport Ave.
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States

William & Mary Law School ( email )

Williamsburg, VA
United States

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