Nah, Bias in the Justice System?

Stanford professor of psychology Jennifer L. Eberhardt, author of “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” writes a piece in LA Times, a blatant truth that African Americans bear the brunt of the bigotry; as being the most overrepresented on death row. 

In a state that is only 6% black, more than one-third of defendants sentenced to death in California are black. Decades of studies have uncovered ways that race can tip the scales. For example, in capital cases where the victim is white, defendants are significantly more likely to receive a death sentence than when the victim is black.

In research led  by Eberhardt in 2006, findings revealed that looking “more black” more than doubled the chances that a defendant would receive the death penalty. But only when the victims were white.

To determine the impact of appearance on jurors’ decisions, her team of psychologists and legal scholars used a database of death-eligible defendants — black men convicted of capital crimes committed in Philadelphia between 1979 and 1999.

Mugshots of those defendants  were shown to a group of people who had no idea what the study was about, and asked them to rate each photograph on how “stereotypically black” the face appeared. The team of researchers told the raters they could use any number of factors to make their determinations, including skin color, facial features and hair texture.

Ratings were applied to the individual cases and examined the sentences those defendants had received at trial. The study found that for black men convicted of killing black victims, there was no “stereotypicality effect.” The men whose faces were rated “highly stereotypical” were sentenced to death at exactly the same rate as those who were rated low in stereotypicality.

However, when they looked at black defendants who were convicted of killing white victims, the findings showed a huge effect. Of the men rated low in stereotypical features, only 24% had been sentenced to death. But more than 57% of the “highly stereotypical” black defendants were sentenced to die for their crimes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended the death penalty in California last week, citing an “ineffective, irreversible and immoral” process that, from trial to execution, is tainted by racial discrimination.

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