“The glasses create a kind of unspoken nerd defense.”
When my kids were studying for the SAT exam, one of the first things they read was that answers containing ‘never’ or ‘always’ were almost certain to be incorrect responses. They were not amazed by this revelation since they’ve been told this from early on in their educational testing experiences. So seeing the title of this news article (Defense lawyers swear by gimmick of having defendants wearing glasses at trial) was a bit disconcerting. What the article basically says is that to implement an ‘unspoken nerd defense’ just have your client dress nicely and wear glasses. The jury will [totally] think that your client could never have done what s/he is accused of doing.
We tweeted this story and immediately got a response back from a criminal defense attorney:
I didn’t swear by [the] defendants wearing glasses *gimmick*. Have had 2 murder defendants that were glasses wearers. Both convicted.
We wouldn’t swear by it either. Jurors are smarter than that. The article advocating a ‘nerd defense’ quotes attorney Joyce Davis who says:
“A lot of things are conveyed by eyeglasses. They look more intellectual or like someone who goes to school. I advise clients to dress like they’re going to church or to visit their grandmother.”
And they cite several instances of when the tactic has worked. And when it hasn’t worked! Then again, when it works, was it the glasses, the interaction of the glasses with other elements, or something else altogether?
This story hit the blogosphere like a lightning bolt. Everyone from law enthusiasts to optical shops to attorneys blogged about it. (A quick web search for “nerd defense” will show you the level of inspiration gleaned from this brief article.) And many of them were bitter about the tactic—some even questioned if this was a permissible practice.
It isn’t a crime to ‘clean up your witness’. As you can see from that last link, sometimes the court will even pay for it! It’s simply a gimmick. And that’s it. It all comes down to visual identity. Overall, does your client look like the kind of person who would do that of which s/he is accused, or not? Glasses can be a part of it along with a modest skirt, an ironed shirt, shined shoes, haircut, tattoos, piercings, shuffling gate, sagging pants… it all adds up. The idea that the Nerd Defense might work (or help) is an extension of the fact that Nerds are evidently viewed as being less likely to commit crimes (except maybe computer hacking). If they create an image of someone who “doesn’t look like they would do that sort of thing”, it will aid in the defense.
The Nerd Defense doesn’t ‘ALWAYS’ work. And it doesn’t ‘NEVER’ work. It depends on your specific jury and it depends on what opposing counsel does to derail your plan. A really simple way to derail this sort of ‘unspoken’ defense is to show a photo from an earlier time when they were dressed for life, instead of for trial. There are multiple other ways to derail the ‘nerd defense’ and it’s a sad commentary on our gullibility that jurors apparently convict spectacle-wearing defendants less often. Our next post will summarize the actual 2008 research at the heart of the ‘nerd defense’.