Appearances Count In Criminal Court: What You Should Know

Posted on: 9 May 2016

You've probably heard the saying before that "clothes don't make the man," but clothes—and your looks in general—can affect a jury's perception of you in a trial. It may not be entirely fair, but your looks can influence a jury's decisions. Knowing that, turn it to your advantage as much as possible.

Try to look like everybody else.

While U.S. culture tends to value individuality on principle, that value tends to fade inside a court of law. There, the less you stand out from a crowd, the harder it is for people to think of you as somehow different from themselves. If jurors identify with you in some way, that may make it harder for them to convict you of a crime. 

This is one of the reasons that attorneys routinely ask judges to allow defendants in criminal cases the ability to change into street clothes before any hearing in which the jury is going to be present. They don't want their client being seen in a prison jumpsuit because it is too easy for the jury to draw a line between themselves and the accused. 

Pay attention to expectations.

One of the key things that you can do with your appearance is to make sure that you don't play right into the hands of the prosecution by looking like the stereotypical sort of person that people think of in reference to what you are accused of doing. For example, if you're a big guy who is accused of assault, you want to downplay your size a little so that you look less like the Hollywood version of a brute. Skip the dark jacket. Wear a light colored tie and a dress shirt that's a size too large, so that you look smaller than you actually are. If you're wealthy and you're accused of a financial crime, leave the expensive jewelry and designer clothing at home. Tone down your appearance so that you don't seem like you're flaunting your riches and putting yourself on a social ladder above other people.

It's the details that often count.

Some of the small details of your appearance may have more of an impact than most people realize when it comes to how they are perceived by jurors:

  • Remove facial piercings and cover up visible tattoos as much as possible.
  • Trim facial hair so that it looks neat. No long Fu Manchu mustaches and no scraggly beards should be on your face. 
  • Aim for a conservative haircut: avoid dreadlocks and shaved heads. If you're a woman, go for your natural color over a bleached-blond look. If you have some white showing in your hair, let the jury see it—age is generally considered a sign of maturity and jurors may have a harder time picturing someone with white in their hair committing a criminal act.
  • If you wear corrective lenses, put away the contacts and wear your glasses in court. Individuals with glasses are associated with a higher degree of intelligence, dependability, and honesty—all of which can benefit you in a jury's eyes.
  • If you're married, wear your wedding ring. It's a reminder that you have a family that you care about and don't want to be separated from.

While there's no guarantee that your appearance will tip the scales of justice in your favor, you certainly don't want to wonder later if you could have made small changes that might have prevented the scales from being weighted against you. Prior to any court hearing, talk to an attorney like LaCross & Murphy, PLLC and see if he or she has any further suggestions about your appearance for court.