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Casey Anthony: Can a Pretty Face Get Away With Murder?

Research suggests that jurors tow a hard line with unattractive defendants and go easier on the attractive ones.

| July 6th, 2011
Red Huber/Getty ImagesCasey Anthony
Casey Anthony

Yesterday afternoon, Casey Anthony, the mother charged with murdering her two-year-old daughter, Caylee, was acquitted of all charges except lying to the police.

How did the millions of onlookers react? The Twitter-sphere flipped out, Kim Kardashian was “speechless,” and comparisons to O.J. were everywhere. No one expected her to walk.

What went down in that jury room? Of course, no one knows, but we can’t help noticing that Anthony is easy on the eyes and research suggests that “get out of jail free” cards are more plentiful for the pretty.

MORE: What Makes a Beautiful Face?

As early as the 1970s, researchers have been documenting what they call “the attractiveness bias,” or the tendency for juries to take it easy on attractive defendants. In fact, it’s one of the most consistent outside influences to scribble on a juror’s blank slate.

Research shows that attractive defendants are less likely to be convicted and more likely to be rated as trustworthy. Their punishments tend to be less severe and jurors are less convinced of their guilt. In fact, the relationship is linear: the more attractive the defendant, the less severe the sentence.

MORE: Why Do We Think Beautiful = Good? 

A recent Cornell study took a stab at understanding which jurors pander to pretty faces. Turns out, jurors who tend to make emotional decisions (rather than rational ones) are 22% more likely to convict less attractive defendants and often give harsher sentences.   

The attractiveness bias is more likely to play in when evidence is weak or circumstantial, says lead author Justin Gunnel, J.D. “In the Casey Anthony trial, where the manner and cause of death remained unanswered and much, if not all, of the evidence was circumstantial, jurors may have focused more on extraneous factors such as, perhaps, attractiveness.”

QUIZ: How Do You Feel About Your Face?

Still, just because a jury is more likely to fall for a pretty face doesn’t mean they did. If “12 Angry Men” taught us anything, it’s that no matter how many people think Casey Anthony was guilty, there may have been reasonable doubt. She may—deep breath—be innocent.

But as the Roxies and Velmas of this world can attest, a little razzle-dazzle never hurts.

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