They say that justice is blind, but anyone who believes that is truly blind. Examples of inherent bias in our judicial system abound. For example, blacks get the death penalty and heavy sentences far more often than whites for the same crimes. Poor people – who can’t afford a “dream team” of lawyers and instead rely on assigned counsel — have far less success in court than their wealthier “lawyered up” counterparts.
And unfairness does not plague just our criminal justice system. Our civil justice system is also contaminated with it. Although statistics are not available locally, it is common belief among the local bar in Central New York that if you are black, poor, excessively overweight or just plain ugly, you are likely to get a smaller money award in your New York personal injury or medical malpractice case than if you are white, well-off, thin and good-looking. That’s why most competent personal injury trial lawyers will talk to a jury – in the jury selection process – about these prejudices, and try to weed out of the jurors who are more likely affected by them.
Like it or not, judges and juries are just regular people with regular prejudices. But courts – and your lawyer – nevertheless have a duty to try to combat them – to even out the scales of justice. A recent case illustrates this.