Sunday, February 13, 2011

"He was a great neighbor. So nice and quiet. And bespectacled."

"I don't think of someone with glasses as being a psycho killer," said one potential juror in an upcoming murder trial. "I'd wear them too if I was in their shoes."

Weird story in the Daily News today. It's sort of a trend story, the type that is pretty much impossible to prove but still sounds fascinating. In this case, "Accused felons hoping to beat the rap are increasingly using the 'nerd defense' - wearing glasses at trial to come off as less menacing to the jury."

Is this really something that's increasing? Or have defendants always looked for advantages such as this? Even though my courtroom experience is limited to being called for jury duty and everything I know about trials I learned from Law & Order, I feel like it's pretty common knowledge that lawyers always tell their clients to dress nicely for court. It's at least a common thing on TV. Look presentable. Don't swear at the jury or threaten to kill them. Put on a nice suit. Perhaps wear a piece to cover up the swastika tattoo the defendant so lovingly displayed on the top of his bald head for 10 years. I would think attorneys would have long ago instructed defendants to ditch contacts for specs. But apparently this is a tactic that's increasing in popularity.

Still, what is it about glasses that makes someone appear more innocent? And how did OJ get off even though he never donned a pair for his 1995 trial? According to the story, a 2008 study "found specs led to more acquittals. 'We found that eyeglasses tended to make the defendant look more intelligent and less physically threatening to jurors," said Michael Brown, the SUNY Oneonta psychology professor who conducted the study. 'It's the whole idea of presenting yourself as intelligent and a little emasculated.'"

Yes, maybe it makes them look more intelligent. Which makes me think they're cunning, brilliant, capable of murder and cover-up.

The one time I was called for jury duty, I didn't actually serve on a trial. I did go to a potential case - a heroin deal - but never even went into the jury box for questioning by the attorneys. I do remember that the defendant was glassesless. I don't remember thinking that fact made it more likely he was guilty.

And if I was on a jury for the trial of a notorious defendant, I might actually have an opposite reaction if he or she wore glasses. In many famous cases, glasses add to the creepiness factor of a defendant, especially if they spectacles are slightly tinted.

This past Christmas morning, we opened presents at my parents' house shortly after I woke up. I wandered downstairs and put on my first present, a bathrobe from Louise. That's what I wore the rest of the morning. Blue robe, messy hair, unshaven. And my glasses, which I rarely wear. A few weeks later my mom sent me the photos from that day. I'd say she caught me at a bad angle, but there weren't any good ones that day. My first thought, and one Louise agreed with? I looked like Mark David Chapman. And it was the glasses that completed the horrific look.

Glasses help murderers in the eyes of the jury? Again, weird story.

Maybe it's just my own bias against glasses. After first refusing to admit I needed them, and then only wearing them in certain classes, I eventually realized I'd inherited terrible vision from my parents and needed corrective wear full-time. But I went with contacts 20 years ago and have stayed loyal ever since.

But what happens if I ever find myself in front of a jury, defending myself against trumped-up charges brought by a publicity-hungry DA with eyes on a Senate seat? Well, I've never worn a suit in my life, but I will for the trial. I'm never clean-shaven, but I will be for the trial. And when I consult with my low-rent defense attorney and gaze at the documents on the table and stare at the jury and glare at lying witnesses, everyone in the courtroom will see that I'll be looking at them through four eyes, instead of two.

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