Winning over jurors is tough enough for criminal defendants. Being ugly may make it tougher. That’s the conclusion of a Cornell University study, reported by the National Law Journal, that found unattractive defendants 22 percent more likely to be convicted and are likely to receive sentences that average 22 months longer than better-looking counterparts.
The study, “When Emotionality Trumps Reason,” was based on a survey of 169 Cornell psychology students. Jack King, spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said defense lawyers have long taken looks into account when trying cases. “We usually want our clients in a suit, with their hair combed and trying to appear as clean-cut as possible,” King said. James Reams, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association, conceded that looks “could have a little bit of impact” in weaker cases. He said, “This study may say more about the kids at that college than anything else.” The study, for the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, was done by Justin Gunnell, a Cornell law graduate and commercial litigator in New York, and Stephen Ceci, Cornell professor of developmental psychology.