In criminal cases defendants have their fate decided by a jury of their peers. The jury is selected somewhat randomly to make sure that they are “fair and impartial.” Nonetheless, we all seem to have some positive and negative prejudices that unconsciously influence our decisions.
One of those prejudices is appearance. More trial lawyers are now asking their defendant clients to wear glasses during a trial. Why is this? Research shows that jurors are less likely to convict someone wearing glasses. Even in cases involving violent crimes such as battery and assault, wearing glasses can effectively sway the jury. It is called the “nerd defense.”
A 2008 study confirmed what many trial lawyers have already witnessed. It is hard for a jury to believe that a well-dressed person who wears glasses could be guilty.
The study asked 220 college students to be a “juror” in a fictitious case involving robbery and assault of a woman. All students were given the same written information, but each student was given one of a whole variety of pictures of the “defendant.” The defendants were either African American or white, and with or without glasses.
There was a noticeable difference in convictions based on eyewear. 50 of the convicted defendants wore glasses, 63 did not. Therefore, 13 more people were convicted because they could not use the “nerd defense.”
Participants said that all defendants seemed less threatening when wearing glasses. But the nerd defense had a larger positive effect for African Americans than for white people. African Americans in glasses were often viewed as more attractive and friendly.
This is perhaps a manipulative way to participate in the justice system, but it could provide a nice boost on top of a good criminal defense. Therefore, if you find yourself facing criminal charges in a Wisconsin courtroom, leave your contacts at home and wear your glasses instead.
Source: ABA Journal online, “Jurors Less Likely to Convict Defendants Wearing Glasses, Say Lawyers and 2008 Study,” Debra Cassens Weiss, 14 February 2011