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'The Defendant Doesn't Normally Wear Eyeglasses' Jury Instruction

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on November 01, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you advise clients to dress professionally for court you may want to draw the line at suggesting they wear glasses since that might become the subject of a jury instruction.

Criminal defendant Donnell Harris wore glasses to his second-degree murder trial and the prosecution noticed that it wasn't his typical style. Something about the glasses was so different that they suspected he'd made the change just to trip up witnesses trying to identify him at trial.

Over the defense's objection, the judge issued an instruction to the jury that they could consider Harris's change of appearance as potential evidence of personal feelings of guilt. That instruction then became the basis for an appeal of Harris's conviction.

Harris's attorney argued that the glasses weren't part of a ploy to confuse witnesses and objected to the prosecution portraying them that way. He said his client needed the glasses to read evidence and notes in trial, reports ABA Journal.

But earlier this month the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the instruction was not prejudicial.

The court was unsure whether it was error, but even so it wasn't enough to overturn the case. The other evidence presented at trial by the prosecution was compelling enough that the change of appearance instruction was harmless.

Part of the issue for Harris is that his case came up at a time when some defendants were wearing nonprescription glasses in court, as reported by The Washington Post.

It appears that the prosecution was suspicious that Harris was using this ploy as well. But even if Harris was hoping that intellectual-looking defendants don't get convicted, his plan backfired. The jury convicted him.

Advising clients to clean it up for court is a good idea. But it's probably not advisable to have them change their look completely. Unless, of course, you are already thinking ahead about a reason to appeal.

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