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Do Glasses Make Criminals Seem Less Guilty?

blind justice

Eyeglasses often play a pivotal role in courtroom dramas. The noble, hard-working defense lawyer will often discover that the prosecution’s case rests on the testimony of a witness with poor eyesight or a high prescription for his or her glasses. But studies show that prescription glasses can have an impact on the outcome of real life trials in a very different way.

There are a whole slew of “Twinkie defenses” that have developed over the years, flimsy or improbable legal defenses that slippery lawyers have used in attempts to get their clients acquitted. But the so-called “nerd defense” is very popular among defense lawyers, says the Daily News, and it begins to take hold before any of the attorneys have even opened their mouths.

Despite the increasing popularity of geek chic glasses, it seems people are still wired to assume a suspect wearing specs is a meeker, more intelligent individual. This sounds like it would only be a problem if you were faced with a jury of saps and simpletons but it can be a subconscious response, and difficult to control as a result.

Defense lawyers tell the Daily News that the “nerd defense” gimmick works wonders when trying to garner a jury’s sympathy. “Glasses soften their appearance so that they don’t look capable of committing a violent crime,” said lawyer Harvey Slovis. “I’ve tried cases where there’s been a tremendous amount of evidence, but my client wore glasses, dressed well and got acquitted.”

“We found that eyeglasses tended to make the defendant look more intelligent and less physically threatening to jurors,” psychology professor Michael Brown told  the Daily News. He conducted a study in 2008 which showed that alleged perps wearing glasses were more likely to get acquitted. He added, “It’s the whole idea of presenting yourself as intelligent and a little emasculated.”

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