The Admissibility of Tattoos in a Criminal TrialA recent Pew Research Center study said that 38 percent of young people from 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo. That’s a lot of people with a lot of tattoos. When someone is arrested, often the arresting agency will obtain information about the tattoos. These descriptions may not be the something an accused wants a jury to know: skulls, weapons, curse words are not uncommon tattoos. Recently the Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether information about tattoos should be admissible to the jury, or whether they are unduly prejudicial to the defendant.

In State of Tennessee v. Joshua Michael Stewart, No. E2017-00864-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 4, 2018) the appellate court considered whether the trial court made a mistake by allowing the jury to hear evidence about the defendant’s “skull and razor blade tattoos.” The defendant’s counsel moved to exclude references to the tattoos, claiming that they were unduly prejudicial to the defendant. The trial court found that the tattoos were relevant for the purpose of the State proving the identity of the perpetrator. The Court of Criminal Appeals did not necessarily agree, noting other identification factors, such as familiarity with the victim, were much stronger and “the relevancy of the Defendant’s skull and razor blade tattoos was diminished significantly.” Nevertheless, the appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and chose not to give any relief to the defendant.

The bottom line is, should you get arrested, you need to know that prosecutors have broad discretion to try to use evidence against you—even evidence with little relevance. In Stewart, even though the identity of the perpetrator was not an issue, it nevertheless served as the rationale to let the State introduce evidence to the jury that the defendant had skull and razor blade tattoos. No doubt that the real purpose of this evidence was to attempt to discredit the character of the defendant even though it had nothing to do with the trial. A well-prepared criminal defense lawyer must look for these attacks from prosecutor and try to exclude such evidence before trial, as the attorney in Stewart tried to do.

If you or your family member are facing criminal charges in Tennessee, Delius & McKenzie, PLLC is here to help. We offer comprehensive and aggressive defense strategies to our clients throughout the Tri-Cities are, Greenville, Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Seymour, and Pigeon Forge. To learn more about our services, please call us at (865) 428-8780 or fill out our contact form.