Colin McCallin April 29, 2014

Don’t judge me by my tattoo! That is what Kansas murder suspect Jeffrey Chapman wants help with before his jury trial this week. He sports an extremely large and conspicuous tattoo across his entire neck that spells MURDER. He also has a tattoo of a tear under his eye, which is commonly symbolic in gang circles of having killed someone. He has asked the presiding judge to allow him to have the tattoo removed (presumably at taxpayer expense), or concealed by having him taken to a tattoo parlor to have cover up work done. His obvious concern is that the jury will be prejudiced to believing he is guilty based on the tattoo, and not the evidence.

This issue is actually a very common one, but of course the humorous irony in this particular example is especially entertaining. Tattoos can play a very important role in a criminal case. For one thing, they can be used to identify suspects; for example, “I didn’t get the name of the guy who shot at me, but he had a humongous tattoo that said MURDER across his neck.” They can also provide insight as to gang affiliations and identities of past victims.

For a defendant who is up to his neck in ink, it is a common move for him to address this with the judge before the trial begins. Juries don’t take well to people with lots of tattoos, even in this progressive age, and judges generally want to make sure that the jury is not unfairly prejudiced by the tattoo. The usual remedy is to allow the defendant to wear clothes that conceal the tattoo, or to allow the application of makeup to cover it up.

What Mr. Chapman is asking for is unheard of, and will most likely be denied. It begs the question- maybe he should have thought about the implications his MURDER tattoo would carry before he, you know, murdered someone. But, like a lot of criminals who share his advanced degree in Felony Stupid, “thinking” waved bye-bye to him a long time ago.