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Racial Bias is Unreasonable

By Chuck Bonneau Like many Americans, I'm deeply troubled by the possible race factor in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. However, like many lawyers, I first looked at this verdict and said, "tough s***, the jury applied the law to the facts and now both sides must live with the consequences." After seeing the outrage, especially from the African-American community, I thought about the case, a lot. I thought about race, a lot. I thought about the power race can have in shaping one's perception of events. I thought about all the times in my life where I had to accept the fact that I will never know what it's like to be African-American, and how frustrating it was because I felt as if there was nothing I could do. Then, I started to think about how I could use my legal education to help the situation, even if just a little bit. My small contribution to this seemingly insurmountable problem of institutionalized racism is a jury instruction that neuters race, when considering whether self-defense is reasonable. As many people know, the reasonable person standard imagines what some virtuous, ordinary and imaginary person would perceive in a given situation. The question in self-defense cases, including cases applying the stand your ground law, is whether the need for self-defense is reasonable. When deadly force is used, the question becomes whether the reasonable person would feel they faced a threat of death or serious bodily injury, so that deadly force was necessary for self-defense. In cases like Trayvon Martin, the jury can look at all the circumstances surrounding the apparent need for self-defense. It would have been perfectly legal for the jurors in this case, or any other case, to have considered Trayvon Martin’s race to determine whether he posed a reasonable threat. Although it is a deeply troubling thought, the use of race to determine the threat posed against someone claiming self-defense is not unlawful. This must be terrifying for African-Americans, as a minority that faces a widespread, apparent stereotype for crime and violence. The possible effect is that a self-defense claim against an African-American victim will be more effective, putting African-Americans at an increased risk of violence. We, as a nation, are passed that, and the law needs to change. The jurors in this case said they did not consider race, so some will say this proposal assumes too much, by assuming a racially biased jury. However, if the

jury considered race, it would have been legal, under the law and jury instructions as they are. That is a problem because possible racial bias should not be reflected in jury verdicts. My proposal to help this problem is a jury instruction that the jury cannot consider race when determining whether a fear of death or serious bodily injury is reasonable. This new standard makes the reasonable person blind to race, at least in the context of self-defense. There are many attacks on the no retreat aspect of the stand your ground law, but I think enough of a movement in that direction has already been made, and those alterations do not necessarily speak to race, unlike my proposal. My proposal is a small, yet possibly effective step in fixing our broken judicial system. I want to hear what people think about it, and I hope it can lead to something beneficial.