Whenever I give my presentation to corporate counsel and executives on preparing for the worst day of their lives, I use a photo from this guy in Texas to make a point.

Some people find this mug shot troubling, less because of how happy Tom DeLay looks than it’s use as a political commentary.  There are a lot of people who think DeLay was a pretty swell guy.  I don’t, but I didn’t use it because it happened to be a fellow who belonged in a mug shot.  It was just that, well, it was one fabulous image that just happened to be of Tom DeLay.

But now there’s competition.  Better still, competition from the other side of the aisle, permitting the point to be made without any unnecessary political overtones. 

Not only does Edwards project that image of cheerful confidence, but he doesn’t have that pale, washed out look we see in Tom DeLay’s mug shot.  Not that it’s DeLay’s fault that the police photographer used too much flash, but still.

The point is that the image of a high profile defendant will be used in every report that discusses the crime.  Taking a page from the marketer’s handbook, the defendant is branded with the image.  If he’s a corporate executive, it becomes the face of the corporation as well.  And it can appear a zillion times, with the voice over, “and John Smith, disgraced CEO of MegaCorp.,” ringing in the public’s ears.  It doesn’t matter how many television commercials appear touting MegaCorp’s humanitarian efforts feeding the starving children of some impoverished country.  The mug shot is what will be remembered.

It doesn’t matter that there are a dozen beauty shots used in glossy corporate brochures and press releases.  No one will seize upon an image of a defendant from better days when there’s a picture of the tragic figure to show.  And aside from radio, television and print are visual media.  They must have pictures.

Make it work for you.  Show that you are not afraid, not beaten.  Show that you are still the same person who won awards, spoke confidently, whether to industry groups or Congress, stared down candidates for high office with incisive comments. 

Of course, no image can please everyone, and  Lawprof Jonathan Turley thinks Edwards’ toothy grin is unbecoming.

In high-profile cases, clients will sometimes ask defense counsel how they should look in a mug shot that will be plastered across the media. There are different schools of thought, but John Edwards clearly went with the smiling “I Can’t Believe These Guys Are Doing This” shot.

On one hand if you look sad, you look guilty On the other hand, if you look happy, you appear callous.

I have serious reservations about this case and its legal grounding. However, I would have encouraged Edwards to adopt a more neutral look for his mug shot.

Does this picture make him look callous?  I don’t think so, but your mileage may vary.  The problem is that if the photo doesn’t come out quite the way you want it to, you really can’t ask the police photographer to do it again.  They hate it when you do that.  Rarely are they accommodating.

This puts the defendant in the awkward position of having one chance of getting it right.  It’s not always easy to do with posed shots, and few shots are more obviously posed than a mug shot.  Turley is a bit overly critical of Edwards, who might seem a bit too happy to be arrested, but looks an awful lot better than James Brown’s.

Or Nick Nolte’s.

And it’s never a good idea to emulate Kumari Fullbright’s mug shot.

She may not appear callous, but she does not look innocent at all.  Then again, there are no political overtones involved.

3 thoughts on “Smile

  1. Mike

    The scientific research is quite clear about smiling: People like it and it makes you seem more trustworthy. Charm works. Telling someone to be “neutral” is just stupid. Or hasn’t Turley heard the expression, “stone faced killer”?

  2. SHG

    Frankly, I had no idea what Turley meant by neutral, except that it wasn’t smiling. Even if his issue was that Edwards smiled too much, it beats the crap out of the alternatives.

  3. Bad Lawyer

    When you pass through the line for what passes for a meal at FCI, Morgantown you “swipe” your ID card and your “mugshot” flashes up on a flat screen. So as you stand in line, several times a day, day after day you get to see your fellow inmates’ mugshots. It’s somewhat instructive because as you might imagine, even in prison people change dramatically. The biggie is often dramatic weight loss which after my “visit” I attribute to the incredibly vile food offerings.

    There are very few smiling mugs–but, maybe it’s a lawyer-thing, because I’m smiling in my mug. What prompted my smile was my awareness that my picture might be seen by my family and former colleagues and I didn’t want to looked hang-dog, or oppressed, or ashamed–even though I felt all of those things. I guess it’s a wee bit of defiance and a lot of ego.

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