Does Your Appearance Affect Jury Decisions?

It’s no secret to psychologists that attractive people are judged more positively than their counterparts, in what has often been termed the “halo effect.” In psychological studies, participants always assume that attractive people are more successful at their jobs, are wealthier and are better parents. This effect seems to carry over into trials by jury; in one psychological study where mock trials were conducted, attractive defendants were more likely to receive not guilty verdicts and more lenient sentencing. In another study, judges were asked to rate the attractiveness of past defendants in their courtroom. Those rated less attractive received harsher sentencing on a statistically significant basis.

Unfortunately, this means that your appearance in the courtroom does affect how juries see you. Namely, the more attractive you are, the higher your chances of receiving a not guilty verdict. It’s too bad that there is no magic pill that lawyers can give their clients before they walk into the courtroom! Focusing on the factors that you can control, which are your attire and your demeanor, may help you walk away with a not guilty verdict.

The Defendant’s Attire

One rather famous court case involving the appearance of the defendant is Estelle v. Williams (1976), wherein Williams was being tried for attempted murder. He was convicted, but appealed his conviction on the ground that he was forced to wear his orange prison jumpsuit while in the courtroom. Williams made the argument that his attire caused the jury to subconsciously assume he was guilty, and thus he was not given a fair trial. The Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and declared it a violation of the right to fair trial to require defendants to wear prison attire in the courtroom. This suggests that attire does play a role in how the jury sees the defendant.


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In one psychological study done on college students, researchers attempted to see if the attire a defendant was wearing influenced whether or not they thought he was guilty and, if so, the length of his sentence. One group of students was shown a picture of the defendant wearing a prison jumpsuit. The other group was shown the defendant wearing a suit and tie. There was no statistically significant correlation between the defendant’s attire and whether or not the students found him guilty. However, there was a very slight tendency to be lenient on sentencing when the defendant was wearing a suit and tie.

Although the study happily seems to suggest that jurors would pay attention to only the evidence presented in the case and not the attire of the defendant, it would be foolish to apply a study done on college students to a matter as serious as a criminal trial. The participants in the study were only shown one picture of the defendant. In a criminal trial, the jury will have much more time to examine the defendant, especially if the defendant takes the stand. It’s likely in this case that appearance will have a much greater affect on the outcome of the trial than the study would suggest.

The evidence seems to suggest that wearing dress clothes will, at the very least, not harm your chances at receiving a not guilty verdict. Dress as well as you can before entering the courtroom; generally, this means you should follow a business formal dress code. If you have no appropriate clothing, you may be able to find some social outreach programs that provide business formal attire for court appearances.

The Defendant’s Demeanor

Historically, before defendants were given the right to counsel and had to represent themselves in trial, the defendant’s demeanor was a large part of the proceedings to ascertain whether he was guilty or innocent. Even today, the defendant’s demeanor often influences the jury to a huge extent when they formulate their verdict; in some cases, the defendant’s demeanor during the trial has been allowed by the judge to be used as evidence by the jury.

The problem with using demeanor to evaluate guilt or innocence is that it is practically impossible to know what the defendant’s nonverbal cues mean. Is the defendant wringing his hands because he’s guilty and afraid of being convicted? Or is it that he’s innocent and scared that he’s wound up in sitting in a courtroom? It’s impossible to know how exactly the juror will react to any nonverbal cues a defendant makes while sitting in a courtroom.

Unfortunately, it’s extraordinarily hard to control your nonverbal communication, especially while in a setting as stressful as a courtroom. The main goal should be to minimize any nonverbal communication whatsoever. You should try to relax yourself as much as possible, but still remain attentive. Don’t give off an air of being anxious or worried, but don’t appear disinterested in the proceedings either. Hopefully, this will minimize the effects that your demeanor has on the jury’s decision, and they will determine their verdict based on evidence rather than your behavior in the courtroom.

Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop are dedicated to serving Nebraska. Their successes defeding the rights of those in the Omaha area are numerous; so contact them if you want the best Omaha car accident Lawyer on your case.

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