You Can't Convict Me, I'm A Nerd!!!

The nerd defense: telling your client to wear glasses for trial, even though they have 20/20 vision, in order to subtly convince the jury that they don't look like a criminal.

This practice has been around for a while, but people have been talking about it after a recent article in the New York Daily News. The article quoted defense attorneys who swear by it. And it was actually supported by a study a few years back. The study concluded that glasses made defendants look friendlier, less threatening and more intelligent to jurors.

The question is whether altering a client's appearance crosses the line. On the clearly unethical side, you have the personal injury attorney who advises their client to show up in court looking more injured than they are - in a wheelchair, for example, even if they can walk perfectly well. On the clearly ethical side, you have defense attorney who tells their client to "dress nice" for court.

Is it ok for the defense attorney to also tell their client to shave and get a haircut? What about telling them to go out and get some new, more conservative, clothes? What about making sure they hide their tattoos under long sleeves?

I think the glasses are in the category of cleaning up a client's appearance rather than deceiving the jury by presenting a fake disability. Putting glasses on a client is similar to putting a suit on someone who doesn't normally wear a suit or makeup on someone who doesn't usually wear makeup. People alter their appearance everyday with the purpose of making a good impression on someone else.

So I'd say the glasses trick is close to the line, but not over it. And it may be the sign of a good defense attorney. The reality is that jurors have biases. You don't need to read a Malcolm Gladwell book to know that first impressions matter. There are rules about being impartial and considering only the evidence presented. But it's naïve to think other factors don't creep in, and defense attorneys know this. They have an obligation to defend their client the best they can. You could argue that it would be malpractice to not advise a client to alter their appearance for trial.

 

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  • We all play the hand we are dealt. Why would a court room be any different? One would think over playing your client's injurys at a PI trial is likely not worth the risk. If the plaintiff happens to get exposed to be over doing it, I would imagine that hell hath no fury like a group of insulted citizens who are empowered to cast judgment.

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