Several studies have examined the relationship between the physical attractiveness of a defendant and jury verdicts. One study found that defendants who were considered physically attractive by the jurors were treated more leniently by the jurors and those that were considered physically unattractive were treated more harshly by the jurors.[i]
Another study found that defendants who were considered physically attractive were almost twice as likely to be acquitted than those considered unattractive.[ii]
Finally, a researcher looked at the effect of the physical attractiveness of a victim on a jury’s verdict in a car theft case. His research showed that a defendant was judged more harshly when the victim was physically attractive than when the victim was physically unattractive provided the victim was also careful in attempting to prevent the theft.[iii]
Now all of the above studies involved the use of mock juries. Whether or not these same patterns would hold in an actual trial is another question. However, the studies do indicate yet another potential prejudice of which we need to be vigilant.
[i] Izzett, R.E. & Leginski, W. (1974). Group discussion and the influence of defendant characteristics in a simulated jury setting. The Journal of Social Psychology, 93, 271-279.
[ii] MacCoun, R.J. (1990). The emergence of extralegal bias during jury deliberations. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 17, 303-314.