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Can an Orange Jail Jumpsuit Prejudice a Jury?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

An orange jail or prison jumpsuit is fairly standard for criminal defendants who appear in court. But is it legally required, and perhaps more importantly, could it prejudice a jury?

On Tuesday, a lawyer for Dias Kadyrbayev, one of the suspects alleged to have helped Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, asked a federal court if his client could wear "street clothes" instead of an orange jumpsuit when he appears in court, reports the Boston Herald.

Is it an option not to wear an orange prison outfit in court?

Appearances Can Make a Difference

It may not surprise you, but how a criminal defendant appears before a jury is incredibly important in trial. Lawyers often fight for their high-profile clients to dress in respectful, civilian clothing to make them more sympathetic to the jury. Even eyeglasses may make a difference in how a jury views a defendant.


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Although it sounds shallow, this isn't a fashion concern. Criminal defendants don't want their physical appearance to distract a jury from fairly deciding their guilt or innocence. Defendants have even requested to have tattoos removed or covered up in preparation for trial.

If Prosecutors Agree...

In many cases, all parties will agree to allow the defendant to appear in civilian clothes while in court. The prosecution may agree by stipulation that a criminal defendant can change from the orange jumpsuit to a "normal" suit and tie before sitting before a jury.

This agreement typically removes the need to have the issue of clothing argued in court. The Herald reports that federal prosecutors are not opposing Kadybrayev's request to wear civilian clothes for his June trial.

Undue Prejudice?

Prosecutors may not always agree to a suspect's sartorial choices, and may wish the defendant appear in prison garb. According to the Los Angeles Times, Chris Brown was forced to appear in court in his jail-issued orange outfit in March despite the fact that he didn't have to wear handcuffs.

In Brown's case, he was only appearing before a judge, so his appearance wasn't going to prejudice a jury. A defendant may be entitled to change out of the orange jumpsuit if it is unduly prejudicial to a jury. A judge will balance this potential prejudice against the safety and procedural needs of the court.

Sometimes a compromise is made between clothing and safety. For example, movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes was required to wear a securing harness, as long as it was concealed under his clothes.

Color senses may vary, but criminal defendants aren't necessarily tied to orange jumpsuits. If you're involved in a criminal case and are concerned about how your appearance may affect your outcome, tell your criminal defense attorney so he or she can take appropriate action.

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