False Assumptions In Justice System Lead To Mistakes, Law Prof Contends


Legal scholar Adam Benforado of Drexel University law school says many routine procedures in the criminal justice system are bound to lead to mistakes and unfair outcomes because they rest on false assumptions about how our brains work, says NPR. In a new book, “Unfair:The New Science of Criminal Injustice,” he cites research suggesting that handsome defendants get lighter sentences, that parole boards are tougher when they get tired and that some common police practices encourage false identification of suspects. Benforado says the system could be improved to account for unseen biases and cognitive failures that undermine the search for truth.

Benforado cites a phenomenon called “perspective bias” that makes him worry “about this broad movement right now to switch to videotaping everything.” He suggests using videotape for certain purposes, but not for other purposes. “We might use that body camera in order to make identifications of people, but we might not do it to …present that evidence as a clear and unambiguous representation of what happened in the key moments,” he says. In the case of jury trials, Benforado says that, “The things that we think are determining the outcomes of cases – that is the facts and the law – are often not what determines whether someone is convicted or not convicted, how long a sentence is. What matters most are the particular backgrounds and identities of the jurors.”

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