Friedman Legal Solutions, PLLC

Criminal Appellate & Post-Conviction Services

Change of Appearance Doctrine

Are Prosecutor's Shooting Themselves in the Foot by Pushing 'Change of Appearance' Doctrine.

Prosecutors are pushing for a doctrine of law which is going to help the defense more than it is going to help the prosecution. The doctrine is called the “change in appearance” doctrine. If a criminal defendant comes to court in a suit with a fresh haircut, the prosecutors want to argue that this shows guilty knowledge if the Defendant normally doesn’t wear a suit and normally has a working class appearance. The doctrine originally was applied where the Defendant made severe changes in their appearance, now the standard clean up that someone does for a job interview is now sinister. In Harris v State, DC Circuit No. 08-CF-1405 (2012), the Defendant simply dressed up and wore glasses (which normally didn’t wear) to Court. The Prosecutor didn’t simply argue that the Defendant was trying to avoid identification. The Defendant was a regular customer of the robbed restaurant and they knew him on sight. The prosecutor argued that the Defendant softened his appearance to make him look less threatening to the jury.

The sad thing is that they are so focused on winning individual cases that they have stopped thinking like institutional litigators. Everyone cleans themselves up for trial. People who never wear suits wear a suit to court. Woman wear more conservative makeup and jewelry to court. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward. Prosecutors have recently sought the right to argue this change of appearance to the jury. When the Defendant gets a haircut, upgrades his glasses, etc. prosecutors have been making the argument that they should be able to tell the jury that this isn't what the Defendant looks like. They've been winning with this argument. My question is how will they stop up from making the same argument when they do that with their complainants. I've regularly seen complainants (child and adult) dress provocatively in the real world and show up in court looking like they were regulars on the church choir. I can't wait to use the prosecutor's new doctrine against them. It should be interesting.