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Note - Do I Look Like I Have an Attitude? How Stereotypes of Black Women on Television Adversely Impact Black Female Defendants Through the Implicit Bias of Jurors


“Do you watch television? What kind of shows do you watch on a weekly basis? Do any of the shows you watch have black female characters? If so, how are the women portrayed?” It is not typical for these questions to be asked during voir dire. Yet these questions may be imperative to identify jurors who may be biased toward black female defendants as a result of their television-watching habits. Although voir dire currently focuses on excluding jurors with blatant, egregious, and explicit biases, it has yet to normalize targeting the implicit biases of jurors, especially biases acquired through television shows.

Every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. However, juror bias can impinge on a juror’s ability to evaluate a defendant fairly. Research shows there is a connection between stereotypes seen on television and perceptions of people in real life. There is a severe imbalance in how black women are portrayed on television, with the negative portrayals outweighing the positive. Negative stereotypes are continuously perpetuated through the media with little positive representation to counter, leaving viewers susceptible to misinformed beliefs about black women. Considering jurors are selected from the general public, the misconceptions they may have acquired from television about black women could affect their impartiality and adversely impact black female defendants in trials.Realizing the detrimental impact this could have on black female defendants begs the question: should voir dire be refined to target the implicit biases jurors may develop by watching television? Because a black female defendant faces a rare struggle due to the intersectionality of her identity and disposition—being black, female, and a defendant—she has the unique challenge of fighting racism, sexism, and other preconceptions and stereotypes attached to her identity. This Note will explore the history and current state of black women in society and in the criminal justice system, as well as the current state of voir dire as it relates to juror bias. Ultimately, this Note proposes changes to voir dire that could expose the discrete but salient implicit biases of jurors adversely impacting black female defendants.