2. Closing Arguments

Implicit racial bias can also have an impact on the content of a prosecutor's closing argument and, in turn, on the manner in which the jury (or judge) views the evidence in the case. In Darden v. Wainwright, the prosecution referred to the defendant during closing arguments as an "animal" that "shouldn't be out of his cell unless he has a leash on him and a prison guard at the other end of that"In a recent Louisiana case, the prosecution referred to the black ... defendant as '[a]nimals like that (indicating)' and implored the jury to 'be a voice for the people of this Parish' and to 'send a message to that The use of animal imagery in reference to the accused can both depend on and perpetuate the negative effects of implicit race bias.

Referring to the accused in nonhuman terms dehumanizes the defendant in the eyes of the jurors and could potentially lead to harsher punishment. In a compelling empirical study that showed how people continue to mentally link blacks with apes, Philip Goff and colleagues asked participants to view a degraded image of an ape that came into focus over a number of frames. When primed with a consciously undetectable image of a black face, participants were able to identify the ape in fewer frames; conversely, when primed with a consciously undetectable white face, participants required more frames to detect the ape than when they received no prime at all. The study confirmed that people, most of who claimed not to have even heard of the stereotype linking blacks to apes, nonetheless implicitly associated blacks with apes, a finding that heightens the concern surrounding the use of animal imagery during prosecution.

In a related study that linked the animal-imagery study to criminal sentencing, Goff next explored the black-ape association by comparing the frequency of animalistic references to black defendants with that of similar references to white defendants in a dataset of 600 criminal cases prosecuted in Philadelphia between 1979 and 1999. The study found that coverage from the Inquirer, Philadelphia's major daily newspaper, of black defendants included, on average, nearly four times the number of dehumanizing references per article than articles covering white capital defendants. Furthermore, the study found a strong correlation between the number of times an animalistic reference was made and the likelihood that the defendant received the most severe punishment available.