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Trials & Litigation

Instruction on Slaying Defendant’s New Eyeglasses at Issue on Appeal

Posted Sep 14, 2012 9:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An appeals court is considering whether a slaying defendant deserves a new trial because of a judge’s instruction allowing jurors to consider whether he tried to change his appearance by wearing glasses.

A panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals is considering the issue in an appeal by Donnell Harris, accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of an intern with the D.C. Public Defender Service, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. Prosecutors say the intern, Michael Richardson, was fatally shot during the robbery of a diner in 2007.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gidez argued the instruction was justified because the glasses could have changed Harris’ appearance, causing witnesses to be unable to identify him, the blog says.

During the arguments, there was a reference to a Washington Post story about the increasing number of defendants wearing nonprescription “hipster” glasses in court. The trend could be linked to a suspicion that intelligent-looking defendants are more likely to win acquittal. In a 2008 study using fictitious cases, student “jurors” rated defendants in glasses as less threatening and acquitted bespectacled defendants more often.

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