Concealing the Prison Tat

If you have a tattoo placed on your own skin by your own free will — and if you are going to court — should the State be required to pay a cosmetologist to cover your ink so you’ll get a fair trial?  Can a tattoo ever be unfairly prejudicial?

Clearwater, Florida thinks tattoos can be prejudicial, and they will pay a cosmetologist $125.00USD a day to cover those offending tattoos in a 45 minute “make-up” session before court begins:

When John Ditullio goes on trial on Monday, jurors will not see the large swastika tattooed on his neck. Or the crude insult tattooed on the other side of his neck. Or any of the other markings he has acquired since being jailed on charges related to a double stabbing that wounded a woman and killed a teenager in 2006.

Mr. Ditullio’s lawyer successfully argued that the tattoos could be distracting or prejudicial to the jurors, who under the law are supposed to consider only the facts presented to them. The case shows some of the challenges lawyers face when trying to get clients ready for trial — whether that means hitting the consignment shop for decent clothes for an impoverished client or telling wealthy clients to leave the bling at home.

I find it ridiculous that the State of Florida has to pay to cover up a defendant’s miscreant, by-choice, tattoos.  Should the State also pay for stylish haircuts and teeth whitening, too?  Should offensive facial scars be remedied as well?

Is it prejudicial for defendants to appear in court overweight and in prison jumpsuits? Should all defendants be treated to a workout regimen and a tailored suit in order to present the least offensive shell to a jury?

How far will we take the, “but it’s prejudicial” routine to its mocking end?  It won’t end in tattoos.  It will snake out to prejudicial eye color and the wrong skin tone and inappropriate facial hair — and the State will be forced to pay for it all until the accused looks exactly like the jury of peers.

If the accused testifies and has a squeaky voice, or a stutter, or a “non-regional” accent — should that, too, be remedied in order not to unfairly prejudice the jury?

Why not just place a defendant behind a screen in court and electronically change their voice if and when they speak?  Wouldn’t that be the most fair way not to judge a person on how they look or sound?

Oh, wait!  There’s that niggly “Confrontation Claus” we need to abide:

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in relevant part: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The Confrontation Clause has its roots in both English common law, protecting the right of cross-examination, and Roman law, which guaranteed persons accused of a crime the right to look their accusers in the eye. According to the Bible, Acts 25:16, the Roman Governor Festus, discussing the proper treatment of his prisoner, Paul, stated: “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”

I say if you choose to tat up your body with visible semiotics of hatred — you do so at your own risk and peril — and you consequentially relinquish your right to confront your witnesses and accusers at any trial sans offending tattoos.   I believe that cogent act of permanent, human, inked negation erases any prejudicial consequences because the accused actively chose to present that image to the world for visceral excitement or for false protection while incarcerated.

5 comments

  • How is this indecency determined? Only swastikas and nazi stuff? What are bare booby pin up girl tattoos? I find those offensive and I would hold it against somebody in court because putting something like that permanently on your body says a lot about your lack of good judgment.

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    • Oh, those are good questions, Anne! Where is the bright, offensive, judicial line drawn that creates prejudice? Are only facial tattoos part of this ploy, or are any visible tattoos in line for covering and shading?

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  • What about the other angle — tattoos that might make the jury feel favorably about the defendant, like one i says “mom” in a heart — should those be covered because it would not be fair? Of course they wouldn’t. Florida is one silly state and this cover up is ridiculous!

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    • That’s an great point, Gordon. You could also try to directly influence jurors by tatting “Innocent” across your forehead or “J-u-r-o-r-s-R-u-l-e” across all ten of the knuckles on your hand.

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