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'Change of Appearance' Instruction Upheld in Case of Defendant Wearing Eyeglasses to Court

The cat-and-mouse game between defendants who want to wear eyeglasses so that they look less threatening, and the prosecutors who don't want them to do so, goes on. You may recall that back in March 2012, I noted a trend in D.C. courthouses involving non-prescription "hipster" or "personality" glasses. In short, many criminal defendants and inmates facing hearings have begun wearing the glasses to court, for reasons that are in dispute.

Defense lawyers say that the glasses are simply part of the "professional look." Prosecutors, however, say that the defendants are dishonestly misrepresenting their appearance and that the glasses are "masks" designed to influence the jury. Defendants are "putting on a schoolboy act," one prosecutor complained to The Washington Post.

The Blog of the Legal Times reports that in one recent case in the District of Columbia Superior Court, the court granted the prosecutors' request for a jury instruction that, if the jury found that the defendant had tried to change his appearance with eyeglasses to avoid being identified, the jury could consider it as evidence of his feelings of guilt. The defendant objected to this instruction, and raised it as an issue on appeal.

In an opinion issued earlier this month, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the "change of appearance" instruction. The court wrote that it could not find that "giving the standard change of appearance instruction was highly prejudicial to Mr. Harris" and added that, "even assuming error, given the compelling evidence presented by the government, the error would be harmless."

So in D.C. courts, at least, defendants wear their Urkel glasses at their own peril.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 25, 2012 at 04:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)


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