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Unconscious bias can impact judges' rulings

Studies show that judges in South Carolina and across the U.S. are not always unbiased in the court room. This can lead to unfair rulings against certain defendants.

For example, a Massachusetts judge recently had a defense attorney held in contempt of court and arrested after she argued that he was wrong not to honor the prosecution's request to dismiss charges against a group of first-time offenders who were arrested while protesting a "straight pride" parade in Boston. The judge's decision not to drop the charges against the pro-LGBTQ defendants was contrary to long-standing precedent. However, when a defense attorney for one of the individuals tried to read into the record established case law proving that point, the judge ordered her to stop. When she refused, she was taken into custody.

Critics of the judge have called his actions unprofessional. However, some legal observers say his behavior might be due to an unconscious bias against LGBTQ people or female attorneys. Unfortunately, this sort of bias can influence judges' rulings without them even realizing it. For instance, multiple studies have found that black defendants receive harsher sentences than white defendants charged with similar crimes. Meanwhile, other studies have found that the problem can be prevented by educating judges on the science behind unconscious bias, exposing judges to different types of people and cultures and increasing vigilance on the part of judges and court systems.

People who are facing criminal charges might want to meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The consequences of a conviction can be severe, and an attorney could assist in preparing a strategy to counter the allegations.

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