Dateline: August, 2008, Issue 4

When are attractive defendants convicted more than unattractive defendants?

Jurors favor attractive defendants. A large body of research shows that attractive defendants are found guilty less often, and given lighter sentences when found guilty, than unattractive defendants (see, e.g., Burke et al., 1990; Mazzella & Feingold, 1994).

The advantage of physically attractive defendants does not hold for all crimes. Physically attractive defendants are treated less harshly when charged with rape or robbery (Mazzella & Feingold, 1994). In certain situations, however, physical attractiveness can be a disadvantage to a defendant.

Smith and Hed (1979) found that if jurors believe physically attractive defendants are trying to take advantage of their good looks, or that they used their good looks to help commit the crime, then guilty verdicts are more likely and sentences more severe.

When defendants are charged with swindling, where attractiveness might help them commit the crime, an attractive defendant is more likely to be convicted than a non-attractive defendant (Sigall & Ostrove, 1975; Wuensch et al., 1993).

While jurors often treat physically attractive defendants less harshly, defendants perceived as making use of their attractiveness to commit criminal acts or in the courtroom to influence jurors are dealt with more harshly.

Source Burke, D. M., Ames, M. A., Etherington, R., & Pietsch, J. (1990). Effects of victim's and defendant's physical attractiveness on the perception of responsibility in an ambiguous domestic violence case. Journal of Family Violence, 5, pp. 199-207.

Source Mazzella, R. & Feingold, A. (1994). The effects of physical attractiveness, race, socio-economic status, and gender of defendants and victims on judgments of mock jurors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, pp. 1315-1344.

Source Smith, E. D. & Hed, A. (1979). Effects of offenders' age and attractiveness on sentencing by mock juries. Psychological Reports, 44, pp. 691-694.

Source Sigall, H., & Ostrove, N. (1975). Beautiful but dangerous: Effects of offender attractiveness and nature of crime on juridic judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, pp. 410-414.

Source Wuensch, K. L., Chia, R. C., Castellow, W. A., Chuang, C. J., & Cheng, B. S. (1993). Effects of physical attractiveness, sex, and type of crime on mock juror decisions: A replication with Chinese students. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24, pp. 414-427.