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Beards and glasses: More ‘small stuff’ you might want to sweat

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

You work hard to prepare your witnesses. You give them fashion advice. Practice testimony to help them tell their story truthfully and effectively. Carefully order your case narrative. And then stuff happens. We wrote almost a year ago about how facial scars, videography angles and foreign accents could derail your witness impact on jurors. And now there’s more.

People are often strange creatures.  Small things make a difference in what we assume about others. This time we want you to pay even more attention to your witness’ face. Specifically, do they have a beard and do they wear eyeglasses? (And no. This isn’t about the nerd defense.)

Michael Brown wrote a piece in The Jury Expert on his research which was popularized in the media as the “nerd defense”.  He mentions some as yet unpublished data where follow-up research on the impact of corporate defendants wearing eyeglasses was conducted. What happened in that research was that white collar crime defendants who wore eyeglasses were rated more negatively: they were seen as more intelligent but found guilty more often.

Takeaway: Be aware that jurors may see your white-collar client as sneaky and bright if they wear eyeglasses. Bright is okay. Sneaky is not. You want to avoid characterizations of your client as furtive, not trustworthy and sneaky.

And it continues. How about being bearded? Is your male client bearded? (If your client is female and bearded we are happy to provide you with private consultation.  Free.) Research shows we tend to judge bearded defendants harshly.  Seriously? Seriously.  And according to our in-house research, they find bearded experts less credible, as well.

Participants in a research study were shown two photos and told one was a defendant in a rape case.

78% of them chose the photo where the defendant had a beard.

A second study was conducted where participants were asked to draw a sketch of the face of a criminal offender.

82% of the sketches included facial hair.

Takeaway: Along with that fashion consult, you might want to supply hirsute clients with a razor. Why we see men with facial hair as more dangerous is an interesting question but this research would say we often do. Although in some circles facial hair is celebrated, apparently the circle where Americans judge character and alleged misdeeds is not one of them.

So now you know. Facial scars, check. Videography angles, check. Foreign accents, check. Eyeglasses, check.  Beard (goatee, and especially a soul patch), check.


Conti RP, & Conti MA (2004). Mock jurors’ perceptions of facial hair on criminal offenders. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 98 (3 Pt 2), 1356-8 PMID: 15291226

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6 Responses to “Beards and glasses: More ‘small stuff’ you might want to sweat”

  1. What?! Im in trouble! “@steigerlaw: Beards and glasses: More ‘small stuff’ you might want to sweat (The Jury Room)”

  2. Beards and glasses: More ‘small stuff’ you might want to sweat (The Jury Room)

  3. Stu and Lili,

    I completely agree that the possibility that a verdict would hinge on physical appearance is alarming. But this is a human system, and this blog post addresses human biases. I take heart in knowing– from 20 years of talking with jurors– that they are deeply committed to making wise judgments. Yet I know that in their humanness they are bound to act out of bias. So we advise our clients, and our readers, to be alert to unintended issues. Pay attention to how appearance can be an issue, and plan ahead. By removing unnecessary distractions from the path of justice, and directing jurors’ attention to what is really important, we can aid the process. Not paying attention to what we know matters is another form of injustice. Thanks for your comments. Keep ‘em coming!

  4. stu says:

    I agree with LiLi, surely jurors should not have the opportunity to make judgements on anything other than the evidence presented to them.

    If this is all about how to make sure that your innocent client is found innocent that’s fine, but this same information could well be used to try to make a guilty man appear innocent, which is lovely for lawyers, not so much so for the judicial system.

  5. Yeah, I don’t think that will happen! But being aware of how those superficial things influence all of us helps you to prepare for trial. We had a witness once who was a large male but when he opened his mouth, his voice was high-pitched and whispery. It was very distracting. But when he gave jurors an explanation of ‘why’ his voice was that way, they let it go and ended up really liking him a lot. Juror reactions, which are often simply human nature, help us know how to tell a story truthfully AND effectively.

  6. LiLi Marleaux says:

    Blindfold the jurors. Seems a lot more fair than being judged on the basis of a facial scars, glasses, moles, birthmarks, eye-gaze problems, broken noses, or any other deviation from the media-perfect aesthetic that society has been programed to feel is “better”.

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