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Do you see that juror’s tattoo?

Saturday, June 20, 2009
posted by Douglas Keene

tattoo locations

Bias is a funny thing. Sometimes we can see it or feel it because the reaction is so strong it’s hard to ignore. Other times it operates under our radar and we make unconscious assumptions about values, attitudes, intelligence, and worldview based on what we see with our eyes.

Tattoos are a good example of a more subtle bias. We often draw conclusions from the presence of tattoos alone. And tattoos on the face or neck or hands or all over the body are especially prone to setting off our biases. Are those biases correct? Tongue-in-cheek graphic aside, we can’t know if our assumptions are correct until we ask some questions.

The fact that tattoos have dramatically changed in meaning over the last 20 years can’t be ignored.  For those under 30 they are commonplace, and even larger designs can be seen in urban offices.  For people from less urban locations, or those who have less contact with the tattooed generation, it can be alienating.  For those who are attuned to such groups, it can be a bridge.

A highly tattooed juror may be bright, thoughtful, influential and just who you want on the jury. What’s important is paying attention to our gut reaction.  I often tell clients that if they dislike a juror for any reason, they have to assume that the juror will perceive it.  Peremptory strikes are precious—do you really need to use one because someone has a tattoo?  What does the tattoo mean, to you and, more importantly, to the tattoo owner?  If you want to strike that juror—why? If it’s only the tattoos, think again. What do you know about that juror that is invisible to the eye? Striking the tattooed juror may be a judgment error based in your own unconscious bias. (Of course, if the tattoos are swastikas on the juror’s forehead, don’t feel obliged to ask them a lot of questions!  See our post from May 14, ‘Who’s on your jury’?)

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