Yesterday, Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte refused to show a video about implicit bias for potential jurors at a man’s upcoming trial in Lincoln, Nebraska. According to the Lincoln Journal Star, implicit bias can be defined as “the unconscious, personal attitudes people hold about race, gender, nationality or other characteristics that can affect their interactions and decisions.”
At a hearing in May, Deputy County Public Defender John Jorgensen requested that the court play an 11-minute video about implicit bias for potential jurors. The video, he explained, is shown to all prospective jurors in federal courts in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington to “make people think of the hidden biases they might bring with them into the courtroom.” While implicit bias is important to recognize in all cases, Jorgensen argued it is especially important in this case since a black man is being charged with sexually assaulting a white woman.
“This is something we need to be concerned about. This is something we need to do something about. This is something that is not going away,” said Jorgensen.
Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Charles Byrd expectedly objected to Jorgensen’s motion, saying that issues of implicit bias should be addressed during voir dire when attorneys question prospective jurors.
In his order, Judge Otte acknowledged the existence of implicit bias, but ultimately agreed with Byrd. He wrote, “The defendant has invited the court to jump into issues that have not been addressed by our Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or the authors of (Nebraska Jury Instructions-Criminal 2nd Edition).”
Jorgensen was encouraged by Judge Otte’s acknowledgment of implicit bias but was disappointed by the decision. In an email to the Lincoln Journal Star, Jorgensen wrote, “We respectfully disagree with Judge Otte’s decision to not address biases that we all hold on race, and we remain convinced that the courts will eventually make implicit bias training a standard practice in all cases.”
Jorgensen and his fellow public defenders will continue advocating for their clients and working to ensure that everyone receives a fair shot at justice. He is confident they will eventually succeed.