The purpose of this chapter is to review how the social category of race is conceptualized within the law and how race contributes to systematic disparities in various contexts in the US legal system. The influence of Larry Wrightsman is seen in the approach to understanding the law with a view toward what constructs have been and have evolved over time in legal reasoning. The earliest use of the “race” construct occurred in the colonial experience in what would later become the USA. Consequently, as a social construction, and not a biological one, the concept of race and the boundaries of what constitutes race categories changed over time and geographical region. Race carries a psychological meaning in law and legal processes, and such meaning is evident in race bias which permeates nearly every legal process. Cultural stereotypes and biases influence the use of race in a myriad of legal contexts including eyewitness identification, profiling, arrest, jury selection, jury decision making, and sentencing decisions. Race can also impact perceptions of attorney conduct, and judges’ own race membership and racial biases influence their legal interpretations and decision making. The underlying psychological construct that drives much of race bias research is the notion of the stereotype. Within research on race-based stereotypes, both explicit and implicit measures are tools to understand and identify race prejudice and discrimination, and both explicit and implicit behaviors provide meaningful results. Current research in racial profiling, legal decision making, and sentencing is presented.
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