How Perceptions of Non-Trustworthiness Can Play a Role in Receiving the Death Penalty
Date:  07-27-2015

Not looking “trustworthy” can have the severest of consequences
On June 24, 2010 Reentry Central posted news of a study that found that attractive defendants fared better in the sentencing aspect of the criminal justice system:

In a study by Cornell University, defendants whose physical attributes were deemed to be pleasing fared far better than those regarded as being ugly. According to the study, jurors were 22% more likely to convict an unattractive defendant than a good-looking one for non-serious crimes. When the crime was believed to be of a serious nature, such as murder, there were minor differences in the conviction rates of attractive versus non-attractive defendants.

Now a new study on looks finds that if person is perceived to look “untrustworthy” in capital cases, that person is more likely to get the death penalty. So, how does an untrustworthy person look? Well, that’s entirely subjective based on one’s own biases. The study, “Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes” found just how unscientific and dangerous it is when judges and jurors use facial features and expressions to decide if a person should be trusted and believed.

According to Psych Central: The perceived trustworthiness of an inmate’s face may determine the severity of the sentence he receives, according to new research using photos and sentencing data for inmates in the state of Florida. The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveals that inmates whose faces were rated as low in trustworthiness by independent observers were more likely to have received the death sentence than inmates whose faces were perceived as more trustworthy, even when the inmates were later exonerated of the crime.

“The American justice system is built on the idea that it is blind to all but the objective facts, as exemplified by the great lengths we go to make sure that jurors enter the courts unbiased and are protected from outside influences during their service. Of course, this ideal does not always match reality,” say psychological scientists John Paul Wilson and Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto, co-authors on the study. “Here, we’ve shown that facial biases unfortunately leak into what should be the most reflective and careful decision that juries and judges can make — whether to execute someone.” Read more.