The new science of criminal injustice by Adam Benforado

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In his book “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice”, Adam Benforado provides an eye-opening critical analysis of the criminal justice system. He uses a scientific approach to show the flaws that exist in our criminal justice system. According to him, the problem of criminal injustices cannot be solved by an overhaul of the criminal justice system but rather, a change in our own perceptions. We all tend to have certain prejudices and biases which lead us to believe that some people are more deserving than others. We associate peoples’ appearance, their social status, their financial status as well as their environment with their behavior. More often than not, we find ourselves judging people based on their historical behavior or their affiliations with other people (Benforado, A., 2016). Benforado stresses on the point that our personal beliefs and our backgrounds often shape our judgments. In this paper, I will analyze Benforado’s examination of the impact of our backgrounds and beliefs on our judgments. I will also relate the examination with my personal perceptions and explain what aspects of my identity I believe might inhibit my ability to deliver a fair judgment on trial. I will defend the argument that Benforado’s book illuminates the dark side of criminal injustice which lies deep within us and challenges us to be more objective in our judgment.

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Benforado rolls out his idea in four different categories: Investigation (which is the first stage of criminal justice system), Adjudication (follows investigation), Punishment (the final stage) and Reforms (which offers recommendations on what can be done to achieve changes). In the investigation stage, important information that could serve as evidence is sometimes ignored, leading to flawed judgment. Interpretation of the evidence available is also critical in determining whether justice will be served or not. For instance, pieces of evidence captured on video can be interpreted wrongly depending on the angle from which the video was taken (Benforado, A., 2016).

Research evidence shows that people can sometimes confess to crimes they did not commit due to pressure placed on them or the observed biases against them. When a person notices that the jury is likely to punish them toughly if they didn’t confess than if they confessed, they are led to confessing in order to get a “fairer” judgment. (Benforado, A., 2016)

The research findings and interpretations presented by Benforado relate so much with my own perceptions. For instance, the jury selection experiment where the jurors were placed on an objectivity test, shows that we can all fall for the trap of stereotyping others (Benforado, A., 2016). I found this experiment in particular very relevant in my own case of implicit and explicit bias. I always take pride in objectivity when judging a person. I have never noticed that when a negative stereotype factor is introduced, I tend to sway away from objectivity.

I have had some encounters where I found myself consciously and unconsciously being biased. In high school, a group of three boys were accused of bullying a peer during a party. The school organized a jury which consisted of students and parents to hear the case and decide on the most appropriate punishment for the three. I got the opportunity to participate in the student jury. The boys had had a history of rudeness and as I listened to the case, I remembered one of the boys answering back at a teacher in class. This affected the way I listened to the case. I found myself doubting most of what the three said in their defense. I explicitly chose what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to. They were later found “guilty” and expelled from the school. I was shocked to find out later that the three had been unfairly accused but since we all knew of their history of rudeness, we did not give them a chance to explain themselves. I personally even found their choice of word very arrogant and believed that they had actually bullied their peer even when there was no enough evidence presented to prove that.

On another instance, I attended a court hearing session where a person was accused of rape. I was only listening in and did not know either the accused or the victim. The case was decided on the same day and to my surprise, he was set free and cleared of all allegation. For me, this came as a disappointment because I expected him to be convicted. I realized how bias I had been through the hearing. The fact that I felt hurt by the verdict means that I was unconsciously bias against the suspect. He had some scars on the face and it was confirmed that he was an ex-convict. Those facts alone made me believe that the current accusations were also true.

In conclusion, Benforado examines the issue of criminal injustice through a scientific lens to prove that most of the flaws in the justice system are introduced by the general public more than the judges and the prosecutors. Our own beliefs and perspectives play a major role in our judgments. To correct the justice system, we are challenged to be more objective, eliminate prejudices and give every person a fair hearing regardless of the known historical facts or their appearance. If we start the changes from within, the whole system will experience a complete change over.

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  1. Benforado, Adam. Unfair: The new science of criminal injustice. Broadway Books, 2016.
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