Company Uses Racially-Biased Algorithm for Jury Selection
Alex Alvarez began Momus Analytics (named after the Greek god of mockery and blame) after he lost a relatively straightforward slip and fall accident lawsuit against a less-experienced adversary. Alvarez couldn’t comprehend the fact that he’d lost this case and wanted to know more about how jurors made decisions. This spawned the creation of his company which uses big data, machine learning, and heuristic algorithms to help law professionals make decisions.
Momus Analytics is part of a new, if controversial, innovation in legal technology companies. The companies employ many of the same principles employed in marketing and advertising to help attorneys select juries that would be most sympathetic to their cause. This information is used by lawyers to predict which way a juror will lean when it comes time to deliberate.
There’s only one problem. Some of that data may violate discrimination standards that regulate jury selection. Lawyers are not allowed to use race or gender as a reason for either selecting or excusing a juror. But is there an end-around these restrictions? Some say yes.
What Does the Constitution Say?
According to the Civil Rights Act, there are certain protected classes of individuals. In other words, you cannot discriminate on the basis of sex or gender, race or color, nation of origin, disability, or religion. Nonetheless, these companies use that information to determine the likelihood that a juror will lean one way or the other.
However, the algorithm doesn’t necessarily weight information concerning race and gender, instead it uses abstract terms like “social responsibility” or “leadership”. What that means isn’t necessarily clear, but race does appear to come into play. Those who are of Asian or South American descent are more likely to be given high “leadership” scores than those who describe their race as “other”.
Alvarez claims in his promotional video that this approach can help you determine who your best and worst jurors are. This, of course, would be very useful information to attorneys on both sides of an argument. Attorneys are now using big data and machine learning to help guide their decision-making process, but the question remains whether the software is helping lawyers make decisions that run contrary to the values of our society.
While Momus Analytics promises to make these decisions effortless, other companies are promising more modest results and are actively attempting to filter out race and gender. Still, most lawyers would never have access to this information unless they could afford to hire a jury consultant, which is very expensive.
So, on the one hand, you have a company promising to deliver those results for a far more modest price than a jury consultant would charge. And on the other hand, you have at least some of these companies appearing to violate anti-discrimination laws. What is your opinion on the use of jury selection software in the courtroom?
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