By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
It has been one of the most enduring myths of voir dire and jury service generally: the idea that biases are personally known, readily admitted, and fully controllable. In order to prevent a biased juror from serving, let's just ask them in voir dire if they're biased, and then rely on that admission or denial. And once that juror is seated for a trial, we will just tell them to "set aside" any remaining bias in order to just focus on the law and the evidence. It takes only a little understanding of social science to realize just how faulty these assumptions are. In reality, biases are complex: We don't want to acknowledge them, we can't simply bracket them out, and we don't even necessarily know that we carry them. By and large, courts have been blind to these realities.
However, one federal court district is finally taking a dramatic and overdue step in the right direction by using a video to instruct prospective jurors on unconscious bias. As detailed in a write-up in The Marshall Project site, the Western District of Washington is showing an 11-minute video shown to every prospective juror in U.S. District Court in Seattle and Tacoma. The goal of the video (embedded below) is to alert jurors to hidden biases that they may not be aware of. In this post, I will take a look at the video, note where it is a good step and where it does not go far enough, and offer a few follow-up voir dire questions for jurors who have viewed the video or been exposed to similar messages.