If you're lucky, the closest you get to a courtroom is old Night Court episodes and the occasional traffic ticket dispute. But, who knows, some day you might wind up in front of a judge due to a hilarious misunderstanding, or because you had to murder some dudes. If so, there are several things that can tip the scales of justice in your favor that have nothing to do with the law or evidence.
Let's say you've been accused of a horrible violent crime. You can probably guess that before you go to court, your lawyer is going to ask you to shower and maybe wear some long sleeves to cover up your "I HEART VIOLENT CRIME" tattoo. But the science of how to dress a defendant to look innocent goes way beyond that. For instance, don't be surprised if your lawyer makes you throw on a pair of glasses.
"OK, but also stop looking like a murderer."
Yes, it's the old "glasses = harmless nerd" stereotype, but it does work. Studies show that we see men wearing glasses as emasculated and less forceful. In other words, less capable of violence. That's bad news for a guy at a WWE audition but good news for a violent offender putting his life at the mercy of the court. That's why seasoned defense lawyers are all for slapping glasses onto their clients on court day.
The tinier his glasses, the ... bigger his innocence?
The science shows that it works, too -- they did an experiment with two fake defendants, one white, one black. Both were photographed with and without glasses. More than 200 "jurors" were given one of the four pictures and told that the person in the picture was accused of snatching a woman's purse and cutting her face with a box cutter. Damn, scientists, that's ... weirdly specific. Anyway, in the experiment, adding glasses reduced the percentage of "guilty" verdicts by 20 percent. Note: This only works for violent crime. If you're accused of a white-collar nerd crime, the glasses lead to more guilty verdicts.
But let's say glasses are not an option for you. Maybe you're using your courtroom appearance to land a modeling contract, or maybe you don't have a nose. That's OK. Lawyers think you can still use your attire to manipulate the judge and jury. Kidnap victim turned bank robber Patty Hearst, for example, intentionally dressed in clothes that were too big for her during her trial. The XXLs were supposed to make her look frail and small, like a victim. During their trial for murdering their parents, the Menendez boys switched from tailored suits to pastel sweaters, presumably in the hope that the jury would confuse both of them with Carlton Banks.
"I'm telling you, it was that damned William Smith, your honor!"
Consultants who do nothing but study this kind of stuff advise women to dress young and girlish, but by all means, cover up. Are you a man who wears a toupee? Why? Who told you that was a good idea? Don't wear it to court, because it makes you look like you've got something other than your big bald head to hide. Finally, all the oversized clothes and bald heads in the world won't help you if you just happen to be one of those guys with shifty eyes. For this, experts go back to the glasses thing. Only they have been known to spray them with cooking oil so the glare will make it harder to see your evil, guilty eyes.
Let's say you lost your case and now you're sitting in jail. Your parole hearing is coming up, and you've been strongly warned not to give that speech Red gives at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. What's going to make the difference? The time of day that the hearing is held, for one.
The thing is, judges are human beings who get tired. Remember when you were a kid at school and the two bright spots in your day were lunch and the hour you spent on the nurse's cot with fake migraines? Or better yet, think about your workday today. Chances are deep down you're still that kid who counts the minutes until lunch, if only to get out of your suffocating cubicle for 30 minutes. It turns out judges are the same way, and that matters when you're begging them for lenience.
"Death by hanging. Aaaaand ... snack time!"
They did a study of judges hearing parole cases (prisoners asking for either parole or more lenient sentences) over a 10-month period. Early in the day, a prisoner had about a 65 percent probability of having the judge rule in his favor. However, as the morning went on, that probability dropped to near zero. After a lunch break, with the judge refreshed, the probability went right back up, then declined again as the day dragged on.
"Your crime was as immoral as it was dripping with cheese. I sentence you to salami. Jail. In between bread."
The whole phenomenon is due to something scientists call decision-making fatigue. A person making a lot of decisions eventually gets to a point where he is too mentally worn out to make intelligent choices and takes the easy way out instead. A judge sitting on the bench for a while will develop a rip-roaring case of decision-making fatigue that slowly degrades his cognitive functions to those of a spoiled 3-year-old. Only he's not afforded the luxury of throwing himself to the floor in a stunning tantrum until he gets a nap. So he does the next best thing: Whenever he's presented with a choice, he ends up going with the status quo, rather than mulling the information over and making an informed decision.
"Just throw some prisoners at me and I'll punch the ones who should be released."
For the prisoner, this means staying in jail rather than getting sweet, sweet freedom. So get your lawyer to pull whatever strings he's got to get that trial scheduled early, even if it means stabbing the guy ahead of you in the lobby of the courthouse.
When throwing oneself on the mercy of the court, you'd think that politeness would be a key factor in determining your character. And you'd be right. Do you think Ricky Gervais or Simon Cowell would last one second under a judge's condemning glare? No, and not just because they're British or known serial killers. Rude people are the worst.
"How about those low-hanging celebrity fruits, eh? I can't believe people are still inviting me to things. I'm Ricky Gervais."
Unless they are testifying on your behalf in the courtroom. In that case, a super-polite witness is seen as being less credible, less intelligent and less competent, three traits that are pretty important in keeping you out of prison.
You're innocent until proven guilty, but you're not credible until proven a douchebag.
In other words, if your witness gets up there and gives the prosecutor a golden shower of verbal respect, the jury won't see him as confident, and confidence is huge in determining truthfulness. Excessive niceness, or what some of us would just call "courtesy," comes across as powerless speech, something we do when we're in a position of weakness.
"I dunno, that guy just called me a two-bit whore. I think he's a stand-up guy."
It's kind of the same reason we see Dr. House or Sherlock Holmes as geniuses; we see how prickly they are, even with their superiors, and realize they must know something. If they didn't know what they were talking about, how would they have the confidence to be such douchebags?
"A pious, loving mother of two? WITCHCRAFT!"