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» Clients » Bias-Logic


When people hold a certain belief, they tend to view almost anything even arguably relevant to that belief as proof the belief is true. In the context of being a criminal lawyer, that often comes up when I tell clients I am going to move to suppress problematic evidence. I encounter resistance from them based on a kind of logic (I use the term very, very loosely) born almost entirely from their bias.

The typical situation in which I encounter such logic involves a client who believes a witness is a liar. His unshakable belief in the witness’s dishonesty has led him to believe that every other bad thing the witness might say about him is convincing proof that the witness is a liar. He fails to understand that the only reason he believes the witness’s statements will help him is because he is starting with the belief the witness is a liar. The jury does not begin with that belief.

Let’s say I have a client with an assault case. The victim says the client pointed a gun at him. The victim also says the client had done it before and to other people, not just him. When I move to preclude testimony regarding other instances of misconduct, the client wants it to come in. “It’s proof he’s a liar, that other incident never happened.” Even if the other people want to come and testify it happened, the client remains steadfast. “It’s proof they’re all liars, those other incidents never happened.”

The client’s logic, or lack thereof I suppose, is based on the fact he is so firm in his belief they are liars that he is incapable of seeing that the jury does not start with the assumption that the victim is a liar. The statements will not reinforce for the jury the fact the witness is a liar because the jury isn’t starting out with that belief. Instead, the statements will impact whether the jury develops that belief in the first place. In many instances, what my client sees as his best evidence may actually be what convinces the jury to believe the exact opposite of what he wants.

To see that, all it really takes is a step back. It’s always easier said than done, unfortunately. Even smart clients get stuck in these situations because it’s too close to home. They believe whatever it is they believe too firmly, and bias colors their logic. I’ve heard some lawyers call it “bias-logic,” presumably because it’s logical only if you hold the same bias. For some clients, there’s no cure. Luckily, that’s why they have a lawyer.

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2 Responses to "Bias-Logic"

  1. Matt Brown says:

    I think confirmation bias is the cause, but I don’t know if the term adequately covers all of the fascinating lines of biased thinking that flow from it.

  2. Andrew (the other one) says:

    That sounds like good, old-fashioned confirmation bias.

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