>Gov’t pays to cover tattoos of neo-Nazi on trial

>I wonder if this option would be even considered by a judge if he or she were presiding over a trial in which a minority, woman or a working class defendant were before him or her.

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. 

“It’s easier to give someone who looks like you a fair shake,” said Bjorn E. Brunvand, Mr. Ditullio’s lawyer. 

The court approved the judicial equivalent of an extreme makeover, paying $125 a day for the services of a cosmetologist to cover up the tattoos that Mr. Ditullio has gotten since his arrest. This is Mr. Ditullio’s second trial for the murder; the first, which also involved the services of a cosmetologist, ended last year in a mistrial. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

As an aside Ditullio is facing a re-trail in the 2006 killing of a 17-year-old boy and the attempted murder of a woman.

I can understand the argument that defendants with tattoos, hairstyles or skin complexion that aren’t considered mainstream or are synonymous with troublemakers may have an uphill battle to get a fair trial by jury. I understand there are jurors who, despite being told to only deliberate based on facts, will prejudge a defendant solely by their appearance. 

What I don’t understand is using taxpayer dollars to pay for a defendant’s makeover. An argument in the story is made about the notion that it was indeed Ditullio’s choice to get these tattoos and people usually get tattoos to make a public statement about their beliefs, their loved ones or to express camaraderie with a group they are affiliated with. Should the government spend taxpayer dollars to cover the tattoos the defendant clearly elected to get just so he or she can get a fair trial? 

Furthermore, would this waste of taxpayer dollars even be considered if the judge was facing a brown-skinned defendant covered with tattoos of the gangs he was affiliated with in prison and on the streets? Would the judge be so quick to grant this request just to ensure the brown-skinned man or woman gets a fair trial? 

It’s one thing for defense lawyers to counsel their clients to remove any offending jewelry or tone down hairstyles and/or clothing that could possibly cloud a juror’s perception of a defendant. It’s another for a judge to order a taxpayer-funded makeover for a defendant to ensure a fair trial.