I’m a big fan of the book “Blink” and what it teaches about snap judgments. Sometimes our initial impressions are right on, sometimes our snap judgments reflect our inner-biases even when that snap judgment is dead wrong. The best example from the book is how orchestras used to have auditions where you could see the musician and know their name, resulting in a male to female ratio of about 19 to 1. They now do blind auditions where you only hear them play the instrument. As a result the ratio is now close to 50-50 and women who before couldn’t get a shot at traditional “male” instruments now can.
So what does that have to do with defending a criminal case in Illinois? I was called for jury duty yesterday for the first time in my life. On a daily basis I help people find Illinois criminal defense attorneys and have seen hundreds of innocent people get charged with felonies or misdemeanors. The jury I was considered for (I didn’t get picked because no one wants a lawyer on a jury) was regarding a felony burglary trial. The defendant was dressed kind of sloppily and had a mohawk that led to somewhat of a menacing look. My snap judgment was that this guy must be guilty. Of course you can’t reach that conclusion without hearing the evidence and I know nothing about his case.
All that said, I think his attorney did a poor job preparing him for the jury selection (or tried and failed) because those snap judgments of what someone looks like do matter. I caught many potential jurors just staring at him and while I don’t know what they were thinking, it’s reasonable to guess that they were a tad skeptical of him already.
Some have proposed that trials don’t allow for any live testimony, but rather actors who would read the answers to questions of a witness or the accused. While I see the merits of that, after being a part of hundreds of trials and depositions, I do think you can tell how sure someone is of an answer they are giving based on their response. However, I wonder if the disparity between blacks and whites being convicted of certain crimes would change. I also wonder if some innocent people would get convicted. It’s certainly worth studying.
For you, if you are a criminal defendant, think about the first impression you are making on the prosecutor, Judge and jury. It shouldn’t change the outcome of a case, but surely it does all of the time.
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