Monday, April 9, 2012

Fashion Within Criminal Defendants: A Ploy to Distract Jurors

Criminal defendants facing jury trials are known to be allowed to dress formally and leave their jumpsuits and handcuffs aside to avoid prejudice from the jury and look more professional.  It seems that criminal defendants are now seeking new fashion statements to elicit a new perception from jurors.  The Washington Post reported that the new strategic attire for defendants is non-prescription glasses.  This new trend has been clearly demonstrated in the 2010 South Capitol Street murder case.  Five defendants are charged with murder armed with aggravating circumstances, felony murder while armed with aggravating circumstances, and assault with intent to kill while armed, and they all happen to wear glasses; a coincidence or a strategy to gain compassion from the jurors.

The “South Capitol Street Massacre” occurred on March 22, 2010, when defendants Orlando Carter, Sanquan Carter, Jeffrey Best, Lamar Wiliams, and another allegedly conspired to assault and kill people who were mistakenly believed to have stolen a diamond bracelet from Sanquan Carter.  The shooting occurred at 1333 Alabama Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C.  Jordan Howe was killed and two others were wounded.  Howe’s friends retaliated and shot Orlando Carter on March 23.  Within the next week the defendants allegedly conspired to assault and kill Howe’s friends at Howe’s funeral for retaliation of shooting Orlando Carter.  Tavon Nelson who was injured in the first shooting was shot and killed.  Brishell Jones, Davaughn Boyd, and William Jones were also shot and killed while six others were wounded outside of 4022 South Capitol Street after the funeral.

The trial began late February 2012 with a full courtroom of five defendants and each with their attorneys, and three U.S. Attorneys prosecuting the case.  The government’s star witness, Nathaniel Simms, who pled guilty in the case, testified that he had never seen any of the defendants wear glasses before even though he had known them for a long time. 

The government may have wanted to highlight a misrepresentation of their appearances.  One of the prosecutors even stated they were “putting on a schoolboy act” to influence the jury.  Defense attorney, Brian McDaniel, even admits that he likes his clients to wear glasses to make them “appear more studious.”  The American Journal of Forensic Psychology even published a study where students judged a fictitious case and “found that African American defendants wearing glasses were considered more intelligent, more honest and less threatening.”  White defendants wearing glasses did not reach the same results.  The South Capitol Street murder case has five African American defendants.

Some may claim that the defendants’ choice of attire is just a trendy, fashion statement, yet it is hard to believe that they would care to be fashionable during their own murder trial where they face a lifetime in jail if convicted.  It seems as a plea to the jury trying to convince them that such well-groomed, intelligent, and calm looking men could never commit such a crime.  It is such a small detail in the long trial, but to those observing it seems almost ridiculous they would even bother with the glasses.  We can only wait to see the effect this has on this trial and future criminal jury trials.

Monica Trigoso
Editor-in-Chief, Criminal Law Brief 


  1. Interesting piece Monica. As a defense attorney my guess is you want your client to look favorably to the jury, though I believe glasses could have a negative effect too, guess it depends on the jury.

  2. Yes, I agree. I am curious to find out how jurors responds to being misled about the defendants appearances, if it even matters. I know in this case the prosecutors highlighted that and it seems like they have something to hide of who they really are unless it is only trying to get away from stereotypes.

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