I recently spent a day at our county superior court going through the process of being selected for jury duty. The process was interesting. Once in the court room, observing fellow potential jurors, their attitudes and reactions, was intriguing, sometimes amusing, sometimes disturbing. The primary concern in the court room process was to determine that each and every juror selected would be impartial…impartial to the defendant, to the prosecutor and to all the individuals giving testimony particularly police officers. Our verdict was to be rational, based on evidence…NOT on emotion or prejudices. To reach this goal several hours of questions were asked which might indicate our biases. Out of 50 people questioned, all said or implied that they felt they would be fair-minded. But the elephant in the room was not recognized. Several individuals raised personal concerns about their objectivity but all said upon discussion that they “felt” they could overcome whatever issues troubled them…that they could be impartial. Really?
We have many historical examples of that lack of understanding of influences which color are decision making. Scientists paid by tobacco companies finding no link between smoking and cancer. Scientists doing research paid for by the petroleum industry finding no evidence for climate change. A supreme court justice who stated that because of his religious belief that death was no “big deal”, twice support capital punishment for persons under the age of majority. The primary argument in these cases was: Is capital punishment for minors “cruel and unusual punishment.” This Supreme Court Justice had the temerity, the lack of insight, to state that his decision was NOT influence by his religious belief that death is “no big deal”, therefore not cruel. Many great scientific discoveries throughout history were initially scoffed at, scorned, because dogmatic beliefs resulted in intolerance to new ideas. Spherical earth, heliocentricism, germ theory, expanding universe…
Determining whether consciously prejudicial, which was the intention of the questioning in the court room, or subconsciously so, we all are encumbered by biases color our decision making which if not understood by the individual, by the juror, may be detrimental to the justice sought in our court rooms. Many people cannot shed their deeply held, particularly subconscious, beliefs and prejudices when making judgements “requiring” objectivity…we are who we are! It is really hard to know who we really are…so that we may have the ability to be more than we are.