The term “implicit bias” references the way that someone’s unconscious attitudes about others (often based on stereotypes) can affect their actions. It’s a problem in many facets of society — and the court system is no exception.

That’s why the American Bar Association (ABA) is using social justice to urge the ABA and individual states to require officers of the court — including attorneys and judges — to go through training that’s designed to help them recognize their ingrained beliefs about racial minorities, women, men, followers of various religions and members of the LGBTQA community.

Without such training, experts say, people involved in the court system may suffer from unfair treatment that leads to excessive criminal charges, the ineffective assistance of counsel during a trial, unfair rulings by a judge or unreasonably harsh sentences when they are convicted of a crime. 

How does implicit bias play out in the criminal justice system? Consider the following discoveries researchers have made: Judges are more likely to set bail higher, impose longer sentences and inflict capital punishment on black defendants than white ones. In general, the biases a prosecutor, attorney or judge holds can cause them to regard some groups of people as inherently more dangerous, less trustworthy and less redeemable than others.

Problems with implicit bias aren’t new — nor is awareness of the issue. What’s new is that the legal system is finally starting to respond to the problem in a proactive way.

If you’ve been charged with a serious offense, it’s smart to understand as much as you can about the things that can affect your case. It’s also smart to have an aggressive, experienced defense attorney on your side.