August 9, 2010

Can implicit religious bias affect jury verdicts?

Homaidan Al-Turki, a Saudi Arabian citizen pursuing his doctoral degree in Colorado, was on trial in Colorado for assaulting his housekeeper. As the jury was sworn in, one juror indicated he might believe a Muslim would more likely break the law under certain circumstances. Al-Turki's lawyer asked if he could probe further, but the judge said no. During the trial, the prosecutor showed the jury a mannequin dressed in "Muslim women’s clothing." Allusions were made to Osama bin Laden, Ramadan, and 9/11. The jury convicted and Al-Turki was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Al-Turki blamed his conviction on anti-Muslim sentiment, and the case sparked international controversy. But the conviction was upheld on appeal, and earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

What does psychology have to offer about the potential effect of jurors' religious bias on verdicts, and how implicit cues might activate such bias?

This month's Judicial Notebook, a regular column in the Monitor magazine published by the American Psychological Association, addresses this timely issue. Note authors Marc Pearce and Samantha Schwartz of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
Research indicates that information associating Muslims with negative attributes (such as terrorism) can create implicit biases that are difficult to detect with explicit measures… [T]he prosecution’s use of negative associations during a trial might foster an implicit bias against a Muslim defendant.
The full column is online HERE.

Related blog post:

1 comment:

Cavall de Quer said...

I'm an interested but ignorant (frequent) visitor to this excellent blog, and this particular article makes me wonder - is there anything which DOESN'T bias jurors? Surely what we know to date of the dodgy workings of the human mind rules out any hope of unbiased jurors at all? Is the jury system the marvel I was brought up to believe it is, or is the professional judge system actually superior?