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Beards and the courtroom

If you are a sex crime defendant, or any criminal defendant, for that matter, you may want to lose the beard if you have one. A recent study by two researchers in New Zealand found men perceive other men with beards as potentially threatening, aggressive and intimidating.

Other studies have shown that mock juries are more likely to believe that men with beards are guilty. A 2004 Montclair State University (New Jersey) study asked people to draw the face of a criminal offender. Eight-two percent of the drawings included some type of facial air - mustache, goatee, beard, five-o'clock shadow, or large sideburns.

Juries may be particularly inclined to find a bearded man guilty if he is charged with a sex crime, as beards can be unconsciously seen by others as a sign of hyper-masculinity.

Interestingly, beards are sometimes seen as a sign of maturity and education. Why do juries appear to think otherwise? It turns out that it's not just the beard, but the beard plus an angry expression. A beard apparently makes a man with an angry expression more threatening than he would without a beard.

And if you have a beard and are on the other side as a member of the jury, you're unusual. Jury consultants, prosecutors and defense attorneys tend to strike bearded men from juries when they can.

Despite the positives associated with beards - men who wear them are educated, intelligent and mature - it's probably best to shave if you are a criminal defendant or would like to be on a jury.

Source: NBCNews, "Sorry guys, we judge you by your facial hair," by Brian Alexander, May 10, 2012.

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