Young DM, Levinson JD, Sinnett S (2014) Innocent until Primed: Mock Jurors’ Racially Biased Response to the Presumption of Innocence. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92365. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092365
Research has shown that crime concepts can activate attentional bias to Black faces. This study investigates the possibility that some legal concepts hold similar implicit racial cues. Presumption of innocence instructions, a core legal principle specifically designed to eliminate bias, may instead serve as an implicit racial cue resulting in attentional bias.
The experiment was conducted in a courtroom with participants seated in the jury box. Participants first watched a video of a federal judge reading jury instructions that contained presumption of innocence instructions, or matched length alternative instructions. Immediately following this video a dot-probe task was administered to assess the priming effect of the jury instructions. Presumption of innocence instructions, but not the alternative instructions, led to significantly faster response times to Black faces when compared with White faces.
These findings suggest that the core principle designed to ensure fairness in the legal system actually primes attention for Black faces, indicating that this supposedly fundamental protection could trigger racial stereotypes.