Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1995

Center/Program

Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought

Abstract

Criminal law opinions often project a distinct image of the accused. Sometimes, she is cast in a sympathetic light and may appear vulnerable or impressionable: a single mother, whose husband has died, struggling to raise her two, loving children;1 an impoverished, nineteen-year-old African-American with a fifth-grade education, "mentally dull and 'slow to learn;" 2 or a defenseless "obedient servant," protecting himself from an "adversary armed with a deadly weapon."' On other occasions, the defendant may appear threatening, savage or even diabolical: a cold-blooded recidivist that escapes from a prison workcrew, brutally stabs, rapes and murders a woman, and returns for a hot lunch with his fellow inmates;4 a six-foot-tall "black male" rapist wearing a black jacket with "Big Ben" printed on the back;5 a "brute creation" or a ran-away, "lurking in swamps, woods, and other obscure places, killing hogs, and committing other injuries to... inhabitants."6

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