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Appearing nerdy can help criminal defendants - just don't overdo it

About a year ago, we posted about an interesting courtroom tactic that some criminal defendants are engaging in. To make themselves appear smarter and less threatening to a jury, some defendants are wearing non-prescription glasses during the trial, even if they don't wear lenses or contacts otherwise.

Referred to as the "nerd defense," studies have shown that it can subtly but powerfully influence juror perceptions of a defendant. While it is unclear if this criminal defense strategy has ever been tried here in Waukesha or throughout Wisconsin, it appears to be all the rage elsewhere in the country.

In fact, it may have been overused in one recent case. Last month, prosecutors in a Washington, D.C., murder trial took notice when all five defendants appeared in court wearing non-prescription "hipster" glasses.

Prosecutors took an opportunity to make jurors aware that none of these men had worn glasses before the trial. In this case, the nerd defense was perhaps overused. However, some criminal defense lawyers often use it to great effect.

One defense lawyer who was not involved in that particular case said: "Sometimes I want my clients to wear them to appear more studious. Often times it's about perception, and glasses help with that perception."

This can be especially true if the defendant's race or socioeconomic status might result in a negative bias against him. If a jurors believe that a defendant "looks like a criminal," it may be nearly impossible to overcome that prejudice no matter how much exonerating evidence is presented.

Justice is supposed to be blind. But as human beings, we know that presentation counts and appearance matters. Therefore, some criminal defendants might need more than just a coat and tie to make a showing in the courtroom.

Source: Washington Post, "Trendy, non-prescription eyewear latest in criminal defendant strategic attire," Keith L. Alexander, March 27, 2012

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