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Simple Jury Persuasion: Modifying your clients visual identity for trial

Monday, May 26, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

hapless to hapfulWe’ve written before about visual identity (in the context of covering inflammatory tattoos with makeup for trial) and want to point you to an article in the new issue of The Jury Expert. Bronwen Lichtenstein and Stanley Brodsky (neither of whom are depicted in the image for this post) have an article titled Moving From Hapless to Hapful with the Problem Defendant.

The article describes the way in which one’s appearance can result in assumptions and judgments being made that do not facilitate justice for your client. The authors describe what they call the “hapless defendant” and describe the possible (negative) reactions counsel may have to their client–and by extension, the reaction jurors may have to the defendant based on appearance and behavior.

But then, rather than saying counsel should improve on the defendant’s appearance, behavior, and testimony–the authors actually tell you how to do that in a way that is inexpensive and manageable with an initial investment of time (not money) from you.

We start with the undeniable fact that many aspects of the U.S. court system have enormous rolling momentum that keeps such hapless defendants uninformed, unprepared, and, for the most part, unsuccessful in their own defense. These defendants are sometimes seen as doomed when defended by public defenders with oppressively heavy caseloads or by court appointed attorneys who have little time to work with them. This article is about the need for quick and effective transformations in representation and interactions so that such defendants have a modestly improved chance of success at their own trials.”

This article is not filled with pie-in-the-sky, idealistic notions about permanent changes in how a defendant presents to the world at large. Instead, it recognizes the transient nature of the changes proposed with the idea that by offering these supports to your hapless defendant, you increase the chance of justice being done in the courtroom for this specific trial. Low-cost. Volunteers. A structured process. Okay–so it is kind of idealistic. It is also a practical and very do-able example of how to put the best of our justice system into action on behalf of those who cannot mobilize to do that for themselves.

“These defendants are people who engage in a process of unknowing self-sabotage that is seeded in social and demographic qualities. We have coined the term hapful to counter the notion of the unlucky, socially stigmatized defendant who comes to court. We propose mobilizing transient changes in behavior, improved attractiveness, limited goals, and assistance from helpful others. By becoming hapful for a little while, accused offenders who are often seen as lowlifes or hopeless victims of social injustice might be now presented and briefly re-conceptualized as persons worthy of thoughtful attention and respectful dispositions.”

Lichtenstein, B, & Brodsky SL (2014). Moving from hapless to hapful with the problem defendant. The Jury Expert, 26 (2)


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