Minority Mens Rea: Racial Bias and Criminal Mental States

78 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2017

See all articles by Francis X. Shen

Francis X. Shen

University of Minnesota Law School; MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Date Written: July 7, 2017


The American criminal justice system relies upon jurors to regularly decode the mental states of criminal defendants. These determinations are often of black and Hispanic defendants, making “minority mens rea” a centerpiece of the justice process. This Article presents an empirical investigation of how jury eligible subjects decode minority mens rea. In a study involving over 1200 subjects, the Article explores whether subjects assign fictional protagonists named Jamal and Lakisha more culpable mental states than they assign to protagonists named John and Emily. The results show that, at least on this particular experimental task, racial bias does not affect the assessment of minority mens rea. An implication is that some decisionmaking contexts and tasks may dampen the effects of racial biases. The Article thus argues that we should continue to examine distinct legal decisionmaking tasks in order to better understand how biases do (and do not) affect outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Keywords: mens rea, criminal mental states, race racial bias, neuroscience, law and neuroscience, neurolaw, psychology, jury, juror, decision-making, empirical, experiment

Suggested Citation

Shen, Francis X., Minority Mens Rea: Racial Bias and Criminal Mental States (July 7, 2017). 68 Hastings Law Journal 1007 (2017), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2998915

Francis X. Shen (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

Minneapolis, MN
United States

MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior ( email )

55 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics