By Marisa Kakoulas
A Kansas man who is charged with murder asked the court to either remove or cover up his large neck/throat tattoo — a tattoo of the word MURDER in mirror image (it’s art just for him!) in big shaky block letters. Ok, I’ll let that sink in for a while.
This isn’t a post on bad life choices, however. For me, especially as a lawyer, I’m interested in the issue of justice and what constitutes a “fair trial.” According to the Great Bend Tribune, the attorney of Jeffrey Wade Chapman is asserting that there would be no fair trial if a jury were to see that tattoo (a tattoo that was done over a year before the crime he’s accused of). The Tribune wrote:
According to the motion filed by defense attorney Kurt Kerns, Wichita, Chapman has asked the jail to allow a professional tattoo artist to remove and/or cover up the tattoo across his neck that is a mirror image of the word “murder” in capital letters. The motion notes it is a large tattoo that cannot be easily hidden with clothing.
“Mr. Chapman has secured a licensed tattoo artist from Hays who is willing to go to the jail,” the motion states. “Mr. Chapman’s tattoos are not relevant to any material facts and Mr. Chapman asks for the court to exclude any mention of his tattoos at trial and further to be allowed to cover them up in an appropriate manner. The fact that he has ‘Murder’ tattooed across his neck is irrelevant to the State’s case and extremely prejudicial to Mr. Chapman if introduced at trial or observed by the jury.”
The State replied that they don’t allow tattooists to practice in jails [Kansas Administrative Code 69-15-14 states, "tattoo artists shall not practice at any location other than a licensed facility," which meets specific hygiene standards set by the Kansas Board of Cosmetology.]
And so, today, an agreement was reached that Chapman would wear a turtleneck in court. Problem solved!
But the issue of having prejudicial tattoos on view in a criminal trial has been much more difficult to address when they are facial tattoos — and there are A LOT of gang/criminal/racist facial tattoos out there.
As I wrote about back in 2009 in my Tattoos as Evidence in Criminal Trials post, a Florida judge granted a motion to have the state pay a cosmetologist $150 a day to cover the Neo-Nazi facial tattoos of a man who was facing the death penalty for murder, stating “the tattoos are potentially offensive and could influence a jury’s opinion.” Naturally, the act of tax payer money going to a make-up artist to help a racist accused of murder didn’t sit well with many people. The NY Times had interesting coverage of that case — as well as a description of the cover-up process.
To read the full article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/04/tattoos-at-trial.html