State v. Sherman

State v. Sherman, No. 97840., 2012 WL 3765041 (Ohio Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2012)

The State of Ohio appealed the sentence imposed on defendant Donna Sherman, a White woman, for charges stemming from large-scale financial fraud. Her sentence included a $20,000 fine, six months in county jail, five years of probation, and 500 hours of community service. Citing a case where a similarly situated African American defendant, Clarissa Foster, received a much harsher sentence, the Court of Appeals of Ohio vacated Sherman’s sentence and remanded her case for resentencing.

Because of the significant discrepancy between the defendant’s sentence and Foster’s sentence, the concurring opinion asserted that the court needed to consider “what impact unconscious preferences or biases may have played in the disparity.” Id. at 11. The concurrence described these biases as products “of our upbringing and our environment.” Sherman at 10. Citing social science research, the opinion recognized that stereotypes are the foundation for implicit bias, and children become aware of stereotypes at an early age. See id. It also noted a study that indicated judicial decision making is affected by each judge’s implicit biases, but in some circumstances, judges were able to alter their behavior once made aware of their implicit biases. See id. In addition, the concurrence acknowledged that while “there is no ‘cure’ for completely ridding ourselves of these hidden influences, an appreciation for their existence and an awareness of how they impact decision making will go a long way to improve our justice system,” as well as continuing education, discussions, and research on implicit biases. Id. at 11.