Beauty is only skin deep but the lack of beauty lands you in jail!
There was a flurry of media coverage this month when a study was released showing that jurors are more likely to convict unattractive people. While this is not really new information—the interesting part of this research was the finding that jurors who process information more emotionally than rationally were more likely to convict based on looks rather than evidence presented. They also punished unattractive defendants more harshly. The researchers used the example of Ted Bundy in conference presentations to illustrate the role physical attractiveness can play in the courtroom.
“Other Scottish lawyers also fear the “unattractive harshness” effect may play a part in some cases. For example, men accused of rape may sometimes fare better if they are good-looking – with jurors who don’t understand the nature of the crime assuming the defendant “would not need to rape“.”
Even newer research shows that not only do mock jurors in research studies show this pattern—it’s also present in our prisons. If you are shorter, heavier and less attractive, you are much more likely to end up in prison. The researchers (economists) wonder if this is a throwback to biological determinism theories. We would wonder if this is a cruel example of how we (as jurors and as a society) reward attractive people and punish those we see as unattractive.
What to do? Pay attention to this research. It likely won’t do much good to say “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: My client is not attractive and I do not want you to convict based on that fact.” But you can:
- Make your client as attractive as possible. We have multiple suggestions for this on the blog.
- Mitigate bias through persuasion
- Make your client ‘like’ the jurors. Consider family responsibilities, values reflected in such actions/behaviors as church attendance, community involvement, school involvement, continued education, kindness to others. Anything you can find to make your client the ‘exception’ to the harsh judgment we attach to those we see as unattractive and not ‘like us’.
It is often frustrating to realize your client cannot get an unbiased trial based on facts and evidence alone. All the more reason to plan in a ‘makeover’ and help jurors to see your client in the best possible light. Even if he does have a short neck and wide head.