Defendant's Attractiveness as a Factor in the Outcome of Criminal Trials: An Observational Study1


  • John E. Stewart II

    1. Mercyhurst College
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    • 2

      The author would like to thank Julius Wishner of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychology for his consultation and encouragement. Acknowledgements are also due Kim Grattan and Rick Sorek for their assistance in the research.

  • 1

    This research was funded by a grant from the Faculty Research and Development Fund of Mercyhurst College. The author is presently a researcher for the Arizona Department of Economic Security.


Observers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 defendants in criminal court, covering a broad range of offenses. Seventy-three usable cases were obtained. For 67 defendants (excluding those who had drawn “flat sentences” of 99–199 years), attractiveness was predictive of both minimum and maximum sentences (p <.001)-the more attractive the defendant, the less severe the sentence imposed. No significant relationship was found between attractiveness and conviction/acquittal, although seriousness of the crime was found to correlate negatively with attractiveness (p <.01)).

Race of the defendant showed a systematic relationship to punishment, with nonwhites drawing consistently more severe sentences than whites; a multiple regression analysis using attractiveness, race, and seriousness of crime as predictors of punishment yielded results which implied that this finding was largely due to a confounding of race and seriousness of the crime.