Jury bias has been the subject of fierce academic and legal debate in South Carolina and around the country for decades. Jurors walk into the courtroom with unique life experiences, opinions and beliefs, which can lead them to interpret what they see and hear in different ways.
Recent studies suggest that simply asking a person to make a decision can provoke inherent bias. Experts say that this is most commonly caused by confirmation bias or pre-decisional distortion, and it leads jurors to arrive at decisions before they have heard all of the evidence and arguments.
Confirmation bias causes people to accept opinions and facts without question that support their points of view and reject information that challenges them. When people succumb to pre-decisional distortion, they take in everything they hear, but they twist it so that it fits in with their beliefs.
When jurors process information in these ways, they sometimes reach a threshold where their minds become made up and very little can dissuade them.
Confirmation bias and pre-decisional distortion are not the only things that can influence jurors. Gender, race and socioeconomic background all influence how people think.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary suggests that age also plays an important role. The researchers gave 239 people a description of a crime and the testimony of a psychologist who called the offender a psychopath. Younger subjects returned guilty verdicts more often, but they preferred a more lenient approach and usually recommended probation. Older subjects returned more not guilty verdicts, but they favored prison time when they did choose to convict.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may look for signs of bias during the jury selection process. This enables them to ask specific questions to weed out jurors with biases that could be detrimental to their clients’ successes in court.