With all reform comes challenges that need to be addressedto properly improve the outcome requiring change. The first challenge addressedin Unfair focuses on juror screeningwhich “provides a good illustration of precisely what we are doing wrong in ourquest to eliminate unfairness from the law” (Benforado, 240). Juror screeningwas created as a means to reduce bias amongst the jury and allowing thedefendant a fair trial. Rather than doing so, the screening “reinforces a falsenarrative of what bias is, where it comes from, and how it can be remedied” (Benforado,240). By creating a screening prior tothe trial, it is expected that an individual can be impartial and completelyeliminate bias thoughts by simply stating that he or she will not let theirpersonal beliefs guide their decision making. This is unrealistic due to theunderlying psychology and subconscious associated with decision making.
An example of juror screening typically consists of providinginterviews and surveys to determine if an individual is capable of providing untaintedfeedback in regards to a case. Questions such as “Does the fact that thedefendant was born in Guatemala matter to you? Would you discriminate againstsomeone based on the color of his skin?” (Benforado, 241) are asked todetermine someone’s bias toward the individual being tried and whether thatwould ultimately affect their ruling during the trial. If the response is no,then no further questioning is done and the juror could possibly be chosen tosit through the trial. This alone proves the insufficiency of the criminaljustice system and the need for reform. By simplifying racism and objectivityto an effortless yes or no question, not only does the individual beingassessed to be a part of the jury limit their recognition of personal biases,but the defendant may end up suffering from an unjust ruling based off someoneelse’s suppressed bias.
Ourbrain is not capable of permanently eliminating bias or intentionally removinginformation presented to us simply because we have been told to do so. By usingjuror screening and even during trials when told to disregard certaininformation, the law is portraying unrealistic expectations of a “magicalremote control for the brain, allowing jurors to erase, pause, and mute oncommand” (Benforado, 242). This idealistic image of sifting out jurors andindefinitely providing equality as well as unbiased hearing is unobtainable,especially with the means currently being used to obtain this goal.Thesecond challenge requiring reform within our legal system focuses on “reexaminingthe basic framework for protecting the public from mistreatment by thegovernment that we’ve constructed over centuries” (Benforado, 242).
Governmentis constructed of the three branches, requiring a division of power whichfundamentally should limit the abuse of power. This concept, as well as theabundance of laws required to be followed by the government figures havecreated more problems by forming an expectation that all authoritative figuresmake rational, law abiding decisions. “The reality is that our procedural hedgeoffers a false sense of protection. Far from ensuring our goal of substantivejustice, our rules of process may actually undermine it” (Benforado, 244). Theidea that an abundance of laws and the extensive thought put into creating themset more boundaries and stability is false. In reality, abuse of the law isformed by creating loop holes to overcome the limitations of the law. Aclear example of the misuse of law to benefit government officials, such as policeofficers, is the use of the Miranda warning.
The Miranda warning was created tolimit “coerced confessions leading to wrongful convictions”. This law states “priorto being questioned, a person in custody must be told “that he has the right toremain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in the court oflaw, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that is hecannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to anyquestioning if he so desires” (Benforado, 243). The overall idea for creatingthis law was meant to protect the public civilians and limit the use ofintimidation by officers to receive answers to their questioning. Although inmany cases this has reduced the forced confessions and wrongful imprisonment,it has also created an unintended loop hole. If the individual being questioneddecides at any point to revoke their agreement to answer questions, “refusalwill be used as evidence of your guilt at a later trial” (Benforado, 244). Asstated in Unfair, the third challengefaced by our legal system requiring science-based reform is “inequality:specifically, the unequal access to the truth about how legal actors perceive,think, and behave” (Benforado, 248). Incrimination in our legal system is basedon evidence but also on the exploitation of human behavior and wealth. “If youare rich and connected, you go free.
If you are poor and uneducated, you go toprison. A major source of the disparity has to do with how knowledge isdisseminated in society” (Benforado, 248). The wealthier an individual is, themore access he or she has to knowledge and science based information, as wellbetter educated attorneys or team members. Anexample of wealth benefiting someone in the legal system can be credited backto the 1974 trial of Joan Little which set a path for the use of modern trial consultants.
In this case, a group of scientists voluntarily assisted in getting Joan Little’strial moved to another county because their researched proved she would receiveunjust and biased jurors based on survey results regarding residents’ feelingstoward the case in the county the trial was scheduled to occur in. Based offthis case, trial consulting became an asset to modern day cases. The “trial-consultingindustry were motivated by a desire to defend the poor and vulnerable”(Benforado, 252), like in the case of Joan Little, but this no longer is thecase. What originally was created as an accessory to promote equality has nowbecome a luxury to those who can afford it. “The more you make, the more accessyou have to those who can help you game the system. And the more you have thatpower, the less likely the government is to investigate you, prosecute you, ortake a hard line in a plea bargain” (Benforado, 252). The concept of moneyproviding opportunities of greater power and a safety net within the legal systemlimits the ability for all to obtain a fair trial. Due to this, two individualswho may have committed the same crime may receive different punishments basedoff their wealth rather than the evidence proving their guilt.
PartTwo For improvement, change or reform to some extent is anecessity. What is comfortable and well-known may not always be the best optionas societal beliefs are altered over time. On page 257 of Unfair, Benforado quotes English writer, G. K. Chesterton, whostated “they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see if the usual manin the usual place. They do not see the awful court of judgement; they only seetheir own workshop”.
In this passage, Chesterton emphasizes what has become aroutine rather than an individualized process when viewing each case and trial. The first reform Benforado focuses on is eliminating livetrials in replacement for virtual courtrooms. “In most trials, there is nocompelling reason for jurors to inspect the defendant, witness or attorney….whenthere is no eyelids to monitor for excessive blinking, a juror or judge isforced to focus on what the witness actually says. And when you don’t know ifthe defendant is black or white, slim or obese, old or young, attractive orunattractive, it is far less likely that biases grounded in these interpersonaldifferences will exert an influence” (Benforado, 267).
Benforado encourages virtualcourtrooms mainly as a means to eliminate bias during trials. Removing the personalaspect from cases also eliminates the use of personal morals and beliefs whenmaking decisions. Subconsciously, the mind contains bias and beliefs that maynot be acknowledged when jurors are initially interviewed. When personalizing asituation, by adding a face or personal information, associations with thesubconscious mind of the juror or judge may influence their decision making.Along with the elimination of bias, Benforado touches upon the increased safetyassociated with virtual courtrooms. Without human interaction, there is nochance of violence associated with a disagreement in the ruling.
Also, the use oftechnology in a virtual courtroom allows for all hearings to be recording,providing reference if ever the case was to be reviewed once again in thefuture. Personally, I agree with Adam Benforado’s push towards virtualcourtrooms. In today’s society, technology plays an important and large role ineverything we do. By eliminating courtroom and solely providing evidence basedinformation and facts to individuals hearing a case, the defendant receives anopportunity to a just and unbiased hearing. The more personalized the case is,the less jurors, witnesses, judges and attorneys focus on the situation at handand more on what they believe could have occurred based on their perception ofthe individual on the stand. Also, by reducing the amount of trials heard incourt, we will correspondingly be saving the government money by lowering costsof holding a trial. Providing trials using technology requires some money butless than what would be paid to run an entire courthouse, taking into accountelectricity, heating, and security.
Similar to virtual trials, Benforado proposes the eliminationof prisons in favor of virtual correlation facilities. He states “thoseconvicted of crimes might continue to live in their homes and work at theirjobs but be required to spend two hours every day in an immersive online spacetailored to serve whatever ends we deemed best” (Benforado, 271). Benforado states this would limit thecorrectional costs as well as solely punish the individual committed of thecrime rather than their family members as well who are inadvertently punishedby being separated from their loved one.
Not only would the criminal pay fortheir crime, but they would be punished in the way decided upon by thosecapable of making a rational decision rather than being assaulted andvictimized in the prison while serving time. In regards to virtual correctional environments, I partiallyagree with Benforado. For individuals who committed minor offenses, I believethis type of correctional environment would be beneficial to all parties. Bylimiting their seclusion, while still requiring means of punishment, the guiltyparty is serving their just sentence while still being connected to the outsideenvironment, allowing them a fair opportunity to reintegrate back into societyonce their allotted punishment period has been completed. On the other hand, I disagreewith this type of punishment for individuals who have committed seriousfelonies such as murder, rape, assault and so on. These crimes not only seriousinjury the victim but also the families and friends who are now left to dealwith the death or injury of their loved one. Trauma like this should requiresevere punishment.
Minimal punishment and thereturn back to society with only some limitations to the freedom of thecriminal in my opinion is solely just a slap on the wrist rather than anequivalent punishment for his or her actions. Lastly, Benforado discusses the needfor corrections officers to serve in a social worker-type role rather than aszookeeper-like guards whose responsibilities include “counting, feeding andsupervising the inmates… and responding to emergencies like escapes andinjuries” (Benforaado, 277). Thisdivide between the public and the prison population causes more problems ratherthan helping improve the mental state and limit the possibility of reoccurrenceof the crime. Benforado states, “If our goal really is for those who havecommitted crimes to become productive citizens, we’ve got to give them more help than other people, not less(Benforado, 278). By allowing ties to the world outside of prison, andencouraging relationships between those incarcerated and their families oremployers, it provides the inmate a support system which could ultimatelyreduce the likelihood of committing another crime once their sentence is overbecause they have someone and something to fall back on. Being completelyisolated, with no sense of responsibility only promotes the reoccurrence ofbreaking the law because an individual has nothing to lose. I agree with Benforado’s stancefocusing on the compassionate and social worker-type role of a corrections officer.
Although prison is meant to be a punishment, dehumanizing an individual does nogood in teaching them their wrong doings and altering their mental state inorder to discourage a similar incident from occurring again. By reducing theirsupport system and destroying any dignity or self-worth they have, theincarcerated individual is only learning to live in the environment rather thanbeing provided assistance in changing to better themselves and their lives.