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Can having a beard affect a criminal defense?

When facing criminal charges in Massachusetts and elsewhere, it is important to mount a strong and robust criminal defense. This is to ensure that a defendant's legal rights are protected in addition to attempting to procure a result that is both fair and reasonable. In preparing a criminal defense, though, it may be important to consider not only the strength of one's case, but also one's appearance.

Although most people certainly tries to not judge a book by its cover, the fact is that first impressions do matter, and that holds true during a criminal trial as well. When weighing the merits of the prosecution's case, a jury may also, perhaps unintentionally, take into account what the defendant looks like. Indeed, a series of studies have shown that someone with a beard may have a higher chance of being convicted than someone without a beard.

In one study, researchers held a series of mock juries in which the juries were shown pictures of the accused. On average, the study found, the jury was more likely to find the bearded man guilty. That perception seems to be based on what most people imagine a criminal suspect to look like. In a New Jersey study, 82 percent of people drew a picture of a person with facial hair when asked to depict what they believed a criminal offender would look like.

Of course, having a beard may cut both ways. After all, a beard can also be an indicator of social maturity and of intellect. Nonetheless, if the studies are to be believed, it may be worthwhile for Massachusetts residents facing criminal charges to consider their physical appearance in terms of facial hair when mounting a criminal defense.

Source: MSNBC, "Sorry, guys: We judge you by your facial hair," Brian Alexander, May 10, 2012

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