Tag Archive: evidence

Myth or Reality?

Unattractive defendants get convicted more often than attractive defendants.

By many accounts, beautiful people are more successful. Research has revealed that they get better jobs, earn more, are promoted faster, and so on. Is there any reason to believe the benefits of beauty are limited to careers and finances? According to a soon-to-be-published Behavioral Sciences and the Law study, the answer is no; unattractive criminal defendants are 22 percent more likely to be convicted than their attractive counterparts.

Cornell University researchers Justin Gunnell and Stephen Ceci organized student volunteers into two categories based on personality tests. The members of one group based their decisions on reason and facts; the other group had a tendency to be more emotional and give excess weight to legally irrelevant factors. Then Gunnell and Ceci presented each group with offender case studies, complete with the evidence that would have been presented, details surrounding the case, and of course the defendants’ photographs. Study participants more or less ignored looks in the serious cases and when the evidence was clear. However, when the offense was relatively minor and/or the evidence was shaky, there was a tendency to fall back on looks. When a weak case was combined with an unattractive defendant, the participants were more likely to convict. So it seems beauty pays dividends in the courtroom, too.

Writing assignment: An offender’s appearance is but one “extralegal” factor that seems to influence the likelihood of a conviction. What other extralegal factors affect sentencing? Several of these are discussed in chapter 9 of your book. Of the many extralegal factors that affect sentencing, when and why do they seem to matter? In what types of cases do they matter, and with what types of defendants?

Source: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/May10/AttractivenessStudy.html

Myth or Reality?

The police made a mistake; the evidence has to go out the window.

Television shows like “Law and Order” all too often show seasoned detectives complaining about how some “liberal judge” threw out key evidence resulting in the release of a dangerous criminal. The detectives bemoan the fact that under the “Exclusionary Rule” illegally seized evidence cannot be used in court no matter how relevant to the case.  How valid are their complaints? Are thousands of criminals going free on “technicalities” because the police goofed up?

Research shows that in reality the Supreme Court is giving police more latitude in their ability to seize evidence. Take for instance, case of Herring v. U.S. which was decided in 2009. Bennie Dean Herring had been searched after the police were informed that there was an outstanding warrant against him on a felony charge. The search turned up methamphetamine and a pistol. Soon after, it was discovered that the warrant had actually been withdrawn five months earlier and had only been left in the computer system by mistake. One might think that, under the exclusionary rule, the evidence would be excluded and  Herring’s conviction vacated because there was no outstanding warrant to support a search. But the majority of the Supreme Court thought otherwise when it ruled that “When police mistakes leading to an unlawful search are the result of isolated negligence attenuated from the search, rather than systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements, the exclusionary rule does not apply.” The court ruled that the errors in the Herring case did not amount to deliberate police misconduct that should trigger the exclusionary rule and Bennie Herring’s conviction was allowed to stand.

The Herring case is but one instance in which the Supreme Court has given police more latitude to search suspects without a warrant, helping to circumvent the Rule. So while the public may worry about numerous dangerous criminals “beating the rap” on a legal technicality, their fear may be misplaced.

Writing Assignment: Do you believe that evidence seized by the police in error should be excluded from trial or would it be better to keep the evidence but punish police officers for violating a suspect’s rights, for example, with a fine or other economic sanction?