Appearance Discrimination in Criminal Court
Frank, Hannah Jean
This dissertation examines the effect of various aspects of defendant appearance on criminal case outcomes. Chapter One uses an experimental vignette study to investigate the effect of defendant race on conviction rates and assigned sentence length in the previously unexplored context of trials for nonviolent property crimes. The results indicate that white defendants are convicted more often and receive higher sentences than black defendants, in part due to race-based jury nullification. However, the results also indicate that racial stereotypes disadvantaging black defendants affect both verdict and sentencing decisions. Chapter Two uses the same experimental vignette study as Chapter One to examine the effects of defendant dress and shackling. The results indicate that, at least in the context of trials for nonviolent property crimes, defendants in prison garb are convicted more often than defendants in civilian clothing by certain subgroups of mock jurors, providing empirical support for the Supreme Court’s holding in Estelle v. Williams, 425 U.S. 501 (1976). Additionally, defendants in prison garb are sentenced to significantly longer prison terms than defendants in casual civilian attire. Finally, Chapter Three provides the first empirical evidence on the effect of indiscriminate juvenile shackling on case outcomes. Recently, there has been a flurry of state action banning indiscriminate juvenile shackling by restricting the circumstances under which juveniles can be shackled in court. Using juvenile case data from North Carolina (where a ban on indiscriminate juvenile shackling was passed in 2007) and Tennessee (where no ban was passed until 2016) spanning 2004 to 2012, double-difference and triple-difference analyses are conducted in order to shed light on the effect of such bans. The results indicate that North Carolina’s law resulted in more favorable outcomes for juvenile defendants, including a 3–4 percentage point decrease in the probability of receiving a sentence involving detention and an equally large increase in the probability of receiving a treatment-based sentence, providing support for a nationwide ban on indiscriminate juvenile shackling.