HOW TO CONDUCT YOURSELF IN COURT: How You Act and How You Look Matter
Appearing in Court can be a nerve-racking experience. Being physically and mentally prepared will help calm the nerves and give you some sense of control over your situation. In addition, it could very well lead to a more favorable outcome.
Dress: Whether we like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, we are judged on the basis of our appearance. When your freedom, family, or money is on the line, it is best to use every advantage, including how you are dressed. What you choose to wear to Court speaks volumes about you, your respect for the Court, Judge and the process.
If you have a suit, wear one. If you don’t, borrow one from a friend; or in the alternative, one can be purchased inexpensively at any thrift shop, in addition to coordinating dress shirt, tie, belt and shoes. At a minimum, gentlemen should wear pants (not jeans), and button up collared shirt which has been pressed and tucked in. Pants should be worn on the natural waist. Ladies should opt for a modest skirt or dress or may consider pants with a blouse. Ladies should avoid plunging necklines, high hemlines and tightly fitting attire. Dark or muted colors are preferable to bright or loud colors.
In addition to clothing, grooming is very important, including being freshly bathed and hair washed. Men should shave or neatly trim any facial hair. Hair should be neat. Visible tattoos should be covered, including any tattoos on the neck, face, or hands. Men should remove piercings from the ears and face and ladies should opt for one pair of small earrings and remove all other jewelry from the face and ears.
Do not wear hats or head coverings except those required for religious reasons. Do not wear sunglasses except for those required by a physician. Even then, your attorney should acknowledge to the Court your requirement to wear tinted shades.
Do not wear anything that signifies a personal or political association or belief. An appearance in Court is not the appropriate venue for you to assert your First Amendment rights and may trigger some prejudices against you with the prosecutor or the judge.
Arrive Early: If you’re coming to Court for the first time, it is best to arrive early. Parking spots are often at a premium around the courthouse, and you are already stressed enough without having to search for a parking spot. In addition, you will need time to make your way through security.
Arriving early will also give you the chance to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and ask your attorney any questions that come to mind. Keep in mind that while in the Courthouse, you are being observed by bailiffs, court personnel, and opposing counsel. Follow all directions of court personnel politely and quickly.
Many judges consider being late to their courtroom as a sign of disrespect and will treat it as a major transgression. All judges consider lateness as impolite at the least and as evidence of an irresponsible person who does not take their court matter seriously.
What to Bring to Court: Leave everything except your keys and court papers in the car to help expedite your way through security. Do not bring your cell phone with you into the court room. If you choose to bring a person with you for support, ensure that they are professionally dressed and groomed. Your support person reflects on you.
In the Courtroom: Keep in mind that you are being observed by the Judge even when your case has not been called. Be courteous and respectful to those with whom you come in contact, both Court personnel and other defendants. Do not chew gum. If you have brought a support person with you to court, do not engage in public displays of affection. Refrain from commenting on the cases that have been called before yours. Try to remain expressionless.
When Your Case is Called: When the Court calls your case, you will see your attorney move to the podium or designated table. You should immediately make your way up from the gallery to the area where your attorney is as well. Do not speak unless your attorney has advised you to do so. When you do address the Judge, use “Your Honor” or “Sir or Ma’am.” Speak up so that the Judge can hear you clearly. Do not interrupt the Judge. Allow your attorney to speak for you; your attorney is your advocate in this matter and is in a position to better understand what information will support your position and what information could harm it. If you must speak with your attorney, do so in a whisper. Those in support of you in the gallery should remain silent and expressionless.
If your case involves a hearing, trial or other lengthy matter, you will be seated next to your attorney. Make sure you have a note pad and pen for these hearings to make notes on what witnesses have said. It is imperative not to distract your attorney, who is giving his/her full attention to the witness. Your attorney will review your notes and answer questions at the conclusion of the testimony and will act on your notes if needed.
After Your Case is Heard: It is important to leave the podium or designated table as soon as possible at the conclusion of your matter. Do not make commentary, gestures, or overt expression while you are in the courtroom, even if the matter did not go as you had hoped or expected. Keep in mind that you may be in front of this judge again in the future and those acting out in court are long remembered.
At the conclusion of your time in court, your attorney will discuss the events that happened and what happens next with you and those in support of you outside of the court room. Even outside of the courtroom, it is important to maintain respectful and courteous.