Mr DeMille, I'm Ready For My Close-Up

March 6, 2011
/ Author: Rick

Any of my regular readers will immediately notice that and this blog, Probable Cause: The Legal Blog with the Really Low Standard of Review, have undergone a major face-lift.

Much, if not most, of the content here remains the same, so you’re still able to find all the original blog posts. For the technical-minded, the WordPress directory was moved as part of the operation, but I’ve taken great pains to ensure that links would not be broken since a lot of people have links back to my articles. (And I learned recently that some of my stuff is actually used as teaching tools at at least one college, giving another reason not to break links.)

Why the face-lift? Lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I wanted the website to expand and the old WordPress Theme, which I had tweaked from someone else’s design a few years back, was not easily extensible. For example, the menu on the old blog design was an image-map. You don’t have to know what that is, but, trust me, it was a pain to change. So I ditched it in favor of the newer Menu-building capabilities of WordPress 3. This allows me to add new Pages — and a store! — and include, or exclude, them from the Menu with just a click or two. Another capability that the old blog did not allow is the ability to add images — easily — to improve the visual appeal.

After all, appearances are important.

Appearances aren’t just for blogs, though. So I want to talk a little about how appearances matter to your criminal defense.

When I talk about paying attention to how things appear in your case — whether in the presentation of real evidence, how you dress for court, your hair, or anything else — it is probably necessary to point out that this is not about tricking anyone. It’s not about trying to get a jury, for example, to forget to look at the evidence. After all, as the saying goes, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.”

Lipstick on a Pig
Lipstick on a Pig

At the same time, though, we all tend to pay more attention to people and things that look good, than to the Bad, the Fat, and the Ugly. (This is not always a good thing.)

Therefore, one of the things that I look at when counseling clients is…the client. How is the client dressed? Does the client have tattoos? If so, is there a way to cover the tattoos? Lip piercings? One of my favorite clients had devil’s horns tattooed on his bald head, not-very-nice words tattooed just over his eyes, where most people have eyebrows, and his blind eye, as I recall, was white and “looked” off in the wrong direction.

And those were the good points about his appearance.

Incidentally — going back to the “lipstick on a pig” statement — you’ll notice I said he was one of my favorite clients. He was. I’ve no idea what he was like away from me, but he was one of the nicest and most interesting people I’ve met. If he was always that way — and that’s the subjunctive “if” there; I don’t know that he wasn’t always that nice — I could imagine enjoying him as a friend.  Unfortunately for him, his appearance meant not only that he got picked up anytime the po-po needed a “heavy,” but it also made the prospect of jury trial scarier.

Still, despite my feelings about this client — and despite the parenthetical warning with linked article above — study after study shows that “Attractive defendants are less likely to be judged guilty.”

This doesn’t mean if you’re somehow not beautiful, you should plead guilty. It does mean that you — and your attorney — should pay attention to how you present yourself in court. And while there may be drawbacks to making certain changes — gang members who grow out their hair only after arrest can expect the prosecutor may comment on it — I think that the goal should be to look as “normal” as possible. Most jurors don’t have piercings in their lips, noses, or eyelids.

This post seems to be hitting not a few old sayings — at least, they are old relative to the date of my birth — and another one is “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” As I explained to a couple of my clients, who have never had any problems in their lives until recently, when they tried to save a man’s life and found themselves suddenly targeted as potential suspects in his death, being in court is like being in a foreign country; I’m the guide, (Incidental Lesson: if you see a man dying, you go the opposite direction; if the police find out you were there, they really don’t care why; they need someone to arrest and blame.) Part of my job will be to explain to them how to act, how to dress; in short, how to present themselves to the court.

This will not “make or break” their case. It will, however, allow their case — rather than their appearances — to be considered. A client’s appearance is not going to sweep away all evidence against them. It is only going to allow the evidence to be considered.

Once your client is properly prepared, you can say, “Mr./Ms. Juror, I’m ready for my close-up now.”

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