Face Masks In Courtrooms Could Lessen False Assumptions About Credibility, Researcher Finds

As courts across the country move to safely reopen, many are requiring people wear face masks.

7/6/2020 1:38:00 AM

Face masks don’t conceal key signifiers about someone’s race or gender, and therefore can’t eliminate bias entirely. But masks do deter people from the assumption that seeing a witness’ whole face is necessary to judge credibility, JuliaSimonKerr says.

As courts across the country move to safely reopen, many are requiring people wear face masks.

Though it sounds counterintuitive, studies show trying to readfacial cuesinhibits a person's ability to accurately judge if someone is telling the truth.“We have a strong cultural assumption that we can learn something about a person's truthfulness if we look at their face,” she says. “But the reality is that there is no evidence to support that assumption.”

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Looking at someone’s face often leads to assumptions about their gender, race and level of social privilege, she says. These factors can influence our thinking and whether we’re inclined to believe someone.“It's not about their words and whether their words are credible and makes sense to us,” she says, “but rather what kind of person we think they are.”

Face masks don’t conceal key signifiers about someone’s race or gender, and therefore can’t eliminate bias entirely. But facial coverings do deter people from the assumption that seeing a witness’ whole face is necessary to judge their credibility, she says.

The confrontation clause in the Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to confront witnesses testifying against them. Simon-Kerr says this doctrine could pose a problem for face mask requirements, but that any issues could be legally overcome because of the government’s interest in preventing the spread of the virus.

The confrontation clause ensures people aren’t convicted of crimes based on a statement an accuser won’t say in the defendant’s presence, she says. Courts can still accomplish this goal with face masks or a more serious measure such as putting the witness behind a screen.

While many places throughout the country mandate face coverings in public, some Black and Brown people say masks put them in danger of racial profiling. Read more: NPR »

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Face masks flopped on the Fourth of July in Rehoboth Beach: 'It is my choice'Up and down the boardwalk and on the sidewalks of the popular tourist town, many people were abiding the rules – at least to some extent. Some wore masks down on their chins, plenty of noses peeked over the top of the masks. Lol So it's my choice whose face i cough into.

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