Does Human Judgment Hinder Our Criminal Justice System?

If you have been charged with a crime in Illinois, will your treatment and sentence be tainted by the biases of people in the criminal justice system? Unfortunately, human judgment and prejudices enter into every stage of the process, from the officers who arrest you to the judges who pass sentences.

In the United States, judges are overwhelmingly male and white. In theory, this shouldn’t matter. Judges are supposed to be impartial; but they are human, and affected by experiences and prejudices they may not even be aware of.

For example, according to an article in the New York Times, bail decisions are often hastily made by judges based on intuition and personal preference; as a result, the strictest judges are more than twice as likely to demand bail as the most lenient ones.

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Illinois, you need all the help you can get to combat human biases in the criminal justice system. The seasoned Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. know what is at stake and have extensive experience in defending clients charged with criminal offenses. We know the courts, the judges, and the system and are aware that there are defenses that may lead to a dismissal of your charges or result in a lesser penalty. We take a team-oriented approach to handling criminal cases and are aggressive in the courtroom. We offer a free consultation to examine the issues in your case and determine what we can do to help prevent negative biases and fight for your rights and freedom.

With office locations in Woodridge and Chicago, we represent clients throughout the entire Chicagoland area. Call our DuPage County criminal defense lawyers today at 630-305-0222 to schedule a free initial consultation.

Biases That Affect Criminal Justice

Here are some findings from studies that show how biases work:

According to a recent report by two sociologists, white federal judges are about four times more likely to dismiss race discrimination cases. Another report showed white judges are half as likely as black federal judges to rule in favor of people alleging racial harassment in the workplace. The reason was felt to be that black judges had experienced discrimination themselves, so they were more likely to be sympathetic.

However, when it comes to criminal justice, the situation is different. A study at Louisiana State University (LSU) and released as a draft by the National Bureau of Economic Research had a surprising result. Louisiana judges actually give about 14 percent longer sentences and are about 5 percent more likely to recommend jail time instead of probation to juvenile offenders of their own race. The same-race bias was particularly large for crimes involving victims, as opposed to victimless crimes.

There are several possible theories for this bias.

  • Judges might have more insight into whether same-race defendants could benefit more from jail or probation.
  • Judges could be worried about seeming prejudiced, and therefore might go easy on defendants of other races to prevent accusations of racism or the appearance of racial favoritism.
  • Implicit bias — the automatic association people make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups — can influence behavior. These automatic associations often make people respond in biased ways even when they are not explicitly prejudiced. Implicit bias can cause institutions or individuals to act in a prejudiced manner even if they don’t intend to or if there are nondiscriminatory policies in place. Implicit bias has been shown to influence the outcomes of interactions between police and citizens and can affect even non-racial factors, such as gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation. Also, studies suggest implicit bias leads to increased police stops for minorities and police shootings of unarmed black suspects.

What Can Be Done

One approach being tried in courtrooms, is for judges to use computer algorithms to help decide whether defendants must pay bail or can be released without payment while awaiting trials. Instead of making arbitrary decisions, judges use computer programs to rate a defendant’s risk of skipping trial or committing a violent crime if allowed out on the streets. Judges can still use their discretion in sentencing, but the algorithms give them a way to decide that does not involve bias.

In addition, implicit bias can be reduced through training and policy interventions with law enforcement agencies so that biased associations can be gradually unlearned and replaced with nonbiased ones.

Illinois is starting to delve into finding solutions for this problem.  In November, 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Equality reported their efforts to improve implicit bias in Illinois courts after surveying Illinois judges to get a better understanding of their decision-making processes. The survey uses a confidential questionnaire developed by the American Bar Foundation using hypothetical court cases in different areas of the law to gauge each participant’s rationale for decision-making. The survey also examines the considerations that influence the outcomes of those decisions, including race, gender, poverty, and legal representation in criminal, civil and family law cases.

While the results of the survey are still not public at this time, the increased awareness of implicit bias should lead to more ongoing judicial education, tactics and procedures to curb implicit bias in our state.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

If you or a loved one is charged with any criminal offense, you need sound advice from a seasoned defense attorney. The experienced and compassionate Illinois criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. Whether your criminal law case is seemingly straightforward or highly complicated, we can help. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense. We examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available, and work hand in hand with our clients throughout the criminal process. We explain all elements and processes of the case and craft an effective defense strategy tailored to your specific circumstances. Our goal is always to minimize biases and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

Don’t delay — contact us for a free consultation today at 630-305-0222. Our Illinois criminal defense lawyers represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, Illinois, and the greater Chicagoland area.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]