Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought
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; an impoverished, nineteen-year-old African-American with a fifth-grade education, "mentally dull and 'slow to learn;'" 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; a six-foot-tall "black male" rapist wearing a black jacket with "Big Ben" printed on the back; a "brute creation" or a ran-away, "lurking in swamps, woods, and other obscure places, killing hogs, and committing other injuries to ... inhabitants."
Imagery and Adjudication in the Criminal Law: The Relationship between Images of Criminal Defendants and Ideologies of Criminal Law in Southern Antebellum and Modern Appellate Decisions,
Brook. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/651