A law professor sounds an explosive alarm on the hidden unfairness of our legal system.
The biggest problem with our criminal justice system, writes Benforado (Law/Drexel Univ.), is that “we have gotten used to it” and failed to act on new scientific evidence exposing the biases built into our legal structures. In this important, deeply researched debut, the author draws on findings from psychology and neuroscience to show that police, jurors, and judges are generally guided by intuitive feelings rather than hard facts in making assessments. They make gut decisions based on their own backgrounds and experiences and then look for supporting data that confirms their judgments. The new research challenges basic assumptions about most key aspects of the legal system, including eyewitness memory, jury deliberations, police procedures, and punishment. “We operate under the illusion that reality enters our brain through our senses unfiltered,” writes Benforado, when, in fact, cognitive blinders distort everything: our assessments of crime scenes, responses to mug shots, interrogations of suspects, eyewitness identifications (innocent people are selected in lineups one-third of the time), and reactions to criminal defendants in the courtroom. The problem lies in the human propensity to make snap judgments and to label people, ignoring contradictory information. Benforado uses case studies to illustrate the biases of the system and details many possible ways to reduce our reliance on human perception and memory, from using diverse new technologies to replacing partisan expert witnesses with independent witness panels. He even raises the prospect of virtual trials, in which participants would interact through avatars to eliminate biases. “If a doctor no longer needs to be in the same room with her patients,” he writes, “why is it so critical that a defendant be in the same room as the person he allegedly raped or shot or robbed?”
An original and provocative argument that upends our most cherished beliefs about providing equal justice under the law.