Monday, May 11, 2009

Judging a Book by its Cover

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker a while back. Another co-worker's step-son had been arrested the previous day for being in possession of firearms and narcotics and some gang related offenses. His mugshot was plastered on the evening news and local news websites.

My co-worker remarked that the kid looked like a gangbanger scumbag. I agreed and we started talking about the release of mugshot photos and how they can convince people -- and potential jurors -- of a suspect's guilt. He went on to say that -- if he did not know me -- if he saw a headline reading "Local man arrested with several firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition" accompanied by my picture that we would just comment "fucking separatist" and presume my guilt.

That exchange made me think about my appearance. At the time -- mid-winter -- I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a Culpepper Minutemen flag on it, khaki BDU pants (they just look like cargo pants), and tanker boots. Due to my receding hairline (thanks, Dad!) I keep my hair closely cropped. Due to my lack of chin, I wear a goatee (not a Van Dyke...look it up). Due to my Scotish and Irish ancestry, I do not tan well.

I'm not displeased with my appearance (except maybe my spare tire) and have no desire to change it, but I realize that --depending on the charges -- I'm probably seriously screwed if I have to face the media or a jury of my peers. No matter how eloquently I speak; even if I shave and grow my hair out, all the prosecutor would have to do is show my mugshot and photos of my "armory" to the jury.

Reason Magazine ran an interesting article on mugshots and their public release in April.

I'll admit to looking at mugshots and laughing. I'll even admit to presuming someone's guilt from his mugshot. When a guy is arrested for public intoxication and posession of methamphetamine and he's wild-eyed with Nick Nolte-esque hair and he has dozens of scabs on his face, it's a valid assumption. But is it fair?

1 comment:

  1. You're screwed anyway if you have guns and ammo and they arrest you. Wouldn't matter if you looked like the local Vicar.