By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
People Wear Their Life Experiences
Video Transcribed: You are in voir dire in a criminal case. And you have a client that looks a little rough around the edges, and we’ve all had one. And one of the things that you can do is to talk about this issue of looking guilty, or what does a guilty person look like to desensitize the jury to the fact that your client looks a little rough, a little tough, scarface. People wear their life experiences. They wear it on their face. They wear it on their shoulders. They wear in their body language. And rugged people, mean people, angry people, hurt people, injured children that grow up to be injured adults, they wear that on their face.
And criminals that have had a hard life that has lashed out at society in the most violent, aggressive, or disrespectful way to the rights of other people, often have had very troubled childhoods, troubled young adulthood, and they’re just angry at the world, and they look rough. They look angry. They look fed up.
Here they are now, the state’s trying to take their movement away, and they look as mean. What do you do? Well, what I do is I ask the jurors, “Can you tell how guilty someone is by looking at them? Anybody here thinks you can tell a guilty person from an innocent person just by looking at them because if you do, I want to know.”
And then I asked him, “Would you agree with me that you can’t tell somebody’s guilty or innocent by looking at them?” And nobody wants to admit that your client looks guilty. Sometimes they will. If they raise their hand, and they say, “Yeah, I think your client looks guilty.” And you just thank God that they said that. Okay. “What makes you think he looks guilty?” There’s nothing that juror can say that you can’t ask a follow-up question. “Well, he looks angry.
He looks like an angry, mean person.” And then you asked the juror, “Are you open to the possibility that an innocent person, falsely accused would show up to court and be angry to have to defend themselves for a crime that he didn’t commit? Are you open to that possibility?”
If they say no, well, you’ve got somebody you need to explore, maybe have them stricken for cause. But you want them to talk about it. You want to desensitize the jury to this rough-looking client. You don’t walk away from this. You keep going. All right.
When you get done with the people that admit that they think they can tell a person’s guilty by looking at them, and God help you. And God bless you if somebody says, “I do think your client looks guilty,” because you could explore all the different reasons. “What makes you think he looks guilty?” “Well, he looks like he’s had a hard life.”
Well, the people that have had hard lives often get targeted and suspected of crimes because of the way they look, and because they’ve had a history of having a hard life. Are you open to the possibility that that’s what this is, is that they didn’t actually commit the crime because this is about the presumption of innocence.
Are you open to the possibility that they didn’t get it? They didn’t commit the crime, but because of the way they look and the hard life they’ve had, maybe they’ve had some trouble before that maybe they just got targeted in this case, were a suspect, but they’re innocent. Are you open to that possibility?
Again, trying to desensitize the jury to this rugged-looking client. When you’re done with that, you go stand behind your client and you put your hands on your client’s shoulder and you look at the jury and you ask the jury, “Would you all please take a close look at my client and be honest with me.” All right. And look at your client and say, “I think he looks a little rough around the edges. I think she looks angry. I think she looks a little tough. Like maybe she might be ready to fight somebody, but be honest with me. How many of you can look at my client and say I think he or she looks a little guilty.”
And do that exploration. What the jury will do is they’ll either raise their hand and say, “Yeah, I still think they do.” And then you get to explore that some more. But when they look at your client and they’re going to correct themselves because they’re going to realize that intelligently, logically, intellectually it’s not fair to judge somebody by the way they look. You don’t even have to say the words don’t judge a book by its cover because it’s inside all of us. That logic’s in all of us.
But don’t be afraid to address directly and thoroughly the concept that you’ve got a rough-looking client in front of a jury, and try to desensitize them to the fact that your client looks a little rough around the edges. I hope this has been helpful to you. And I look forward to talking to you some more. This has been Oklahoma trial attorney Ken Adair. If you are looking for co-counsel services or an experienced jury consultant, visit trial.win.