The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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Traits commonly associated with physically attractive people include talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (Aronson, 2007: Wheeler and Kim, 1997). Being physically attractive can produce what is referred to as a halo effect. A halo effect occurs when one positive or negative characteristic dominates the way a person is viewed by others (Cialdini 2001; Aronson, 2007). Cialdini (2001), a well established and published researcher on similarity and liking explains that with physical attractiveness “good-looking equals good.”

Physically attractive people enjoy numerous benefits throughout their lives. They are thought to be more intelligent in school, more favorably looked upon during job interviews, paid more in the workplace, and receive superior treatment within the US legal systems. These are not small insignificant advantages (Cialdini 2001: Aronson, 2007). Cialdini (2001) also found that defendants were sentenced to jail twice as often if they were categorized as unattractive people.

Judge and Jury

Kenneth Lopez (2007) wrote an article about a survey in the March issue of the ABA magazine Law Technology Today. The results revealed that attorneys and the general public communicate in significantly different ways. While “61% of the general public learns visually,” the survey found that “attorneys show a greater preference for auditory learning and kinesthetic learning.” Based on the results of the study, a typical twelve-person jury would likely be composed of seven “visual” jurors, three “feeling” jurors and only two “hearing” jurors. Accordingly, it is likely that a visual-majority jury is going to be listening to a non-visual attorney speak in a typical courtroom. In other words, lawyers are under-communicating with 82% of the jury (Lopez, 2007).

Most people are visual and juries are made up of people. This means that juries are likely to succumb to the halo effect when it comes to the attractiveness of the offender. Offenders who are physically attractive to juries receive lenient sentences, or are found not guilty. Offenders who are physically unattractive are perceived as criminal types by juries and receive more stringent fines, bails, or are found guilty (Jackson, 1992).

According to Aronson (2007) Judges are also guilty of halo bias. Attractive offenders who were found guilty of misdemeanors were given lenient fines, bails, and sentences as long as their physical attractiveness was unrelated to the crime. However, when the physical attractiveness of the offender had a direct effect on the crime the sentences were much harsher (Aronson, 2007).

Infamously Attractive

Debra Lafave a 23-year-old teacher of Temple Terrace, Florida became the icon for male sexual fantasy. This attractive blonde school teacher was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old student. She faced felony charges with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and was only given house arrest. Some believe her beauty was a factor in receiving such a lenient sentence. Especially after her lawyer, the honorable John Fitzgibbons esquire, stated that sending her to prison would be “placing a piece of raw mean in with the lions”.

Lafave was strapped onto a gynecology exam table and forced to have photos taken of her genitalia as part of the investigation. She claims this was not necessary stating that the photos could have been taken while she stood next to a wall. The male police officer who signed off on the order was later arrested on sex charges not associated with this case (Lauer, 2006). Mr. Fitzgibbons was successful in having these photos sealed (Allied Press, 2005)

After two years in court, Ms. Lafave was sentenced to house arrest for the three years and on intensive probation for another seven. She’s not allowed to leave home except for work and essential errands. She’s a registered sex offender, who’s not allowed to work with children or live within a thousand feet of a school. She wears an electronic ankle bracelet so her every movement can be tracked (Lauer, 2006).

This story was followed on an international level and as a result other charges against Debra Lafave in Ocala Florida were dropped. The victims parent refused to allow the minor to testify claiming it would traumatize the victim further (Lauer, 2006). A day after charges were dropped against Lafave, Toni Lynn Woods, an elementary school teacher in West Virginia, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually assaulting students. She was neither young nor attractive (Goldenberg, 2006).

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