Appearance in court critical for people facing trial, lawyers say

Lawyers say neat appearance could lead to favorable impression on jury

SAN ANTONIO – This spring, cop killer Shawn Puente was found guilty of capital murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of execution. During his trial, he was dressed in a suit and tie, his hair was cut short and his tattoos were barely visible.

It is not known whether Puente's appearance had an impact on his sentence, but most lawyers agree that appearance is important for people on trial.

“I always try to have my clients dress in at least a long-sleeved shirt and a tie if possible,” said Eddie Garcia, a veteran defense attorney.

Garcia is not alone.

“I’ve had clients who show up in baggy jeans and T-shirts, and it’s like, ‘Go get some other clothes,'" said Alex Scharff, a defense attorney.

Scharff said defense attorneys have a legal responsibility for their clients' courtroom appearance.

“The jury cannot know that a person has been incarcerated pending trial,” Scharff said.

District Judge Ron Rangel knows firsthand how important an accused person’s appearance can be.

“I’ve heard jurors in the back talk about the first moment they laid eyes on a defendant and thought something negative,” Rangel said. “One juror said, ‘The first time I saw him, I thought, 'What did this person do?'' based solely on the way they looked.”

About the Author:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.