Going to court can be very intimidating, and if this is your first time, you may not be fully prepared, especially if your only knowledge of what court proceedings are like is what you’ve seen on some television show.
First of all, if you find yourself in circuit court, the presiding judge is often cited as the most powerful person in the state, more so than even the governor. Why? Because a circuit court judge can take your money, property, freedom, and, even more importantly, your life.
Even if you find yourself in a misdemeanor or traffic court, the judge can sentence you up to a year in jail and has great discretion on fines and court costs. No matter what type of court you want to do whatever possible to garner the best outcome possible for yourself, including alternative sentencing programs.
To that end, I’d like to share some issues to consider before you head out for court.
- Appearance & Dress
No matter what your personal views on the criminal justice system may be, remember that in the end, the presiding judge will always have the final word.
Always show respect and address the judge as your honor. Speak only when spoken to or given the opportunity to talk. If you cannot hear or understand what the judge is saying, politely ask that they repeat or explain it. Also, interrupting the judge, your attorney, or the state attorney is not in your best interest.
You can request an interpreter if English is not your primary language.
I have seen defendants who chose to curse or use abusive language in addressing the judge. They not only received all the penalties allowed by law but also were subsequently charged with contempt of court with additional fines and jail time. There have also been defendants who refused to remain quiet during a trial only to find themselves bound and gagged.
It is always a good idea to be clean and well-groomed when appearing in court. This not only shows respect for the court but also for the other parties involved in your case. This not only includes brushing your teeth and hair but also wearing clean clothes. Defendants with B.O., unwashed hair, soiled clothes show little or no respect for anyone, let alone all those assembled in the courtroom. Also, defendants appearing in court reeking of liquor will find themselves remanded and waiting for a new court date.
Appearance & Dress
Whenever a client asks me what I should wear to court, I recommend that they look at the attorneys. It is unnecessary to spend an outrageous amount of money on a suit & tie. However, coming to court with a clean, pressed shirt and slacks with a pair of polished shoes is highly recommended. Of course, a dress shirt with a tie would be even better, but a suit and tie make the most positive statement.
I do not claim to be a fashion expert but suggest that you observe what the female attorneys, expert witnesses, and clerks wear and do likewise to make the best impression. It also gives the impression of being a productive member of society. Hopefully, one that shouldn’t be wasting time in jail.
Remember, the way you dress and groom yourself is an indication of how much you respect the court, the other parties involved in your case, and yourself.
Tattoos often make a statement that a judge or jury may find offensive. Therefore, it might be wise to wear a long-sleeved shirt to cover them. Likewise, you may want to wear your colors or trade gang signs with your friends who have accompanied you to court to show your solidarity with your peers. However, why risk that the judge or jury members might find such displays offensive.
On the other hand, having your family, employer, clergyman, and other community leaders there in court on your behalf is considered a positive factor by judges. You are not likely to avoid a conviction if the state produces witnesses or videos of you committing a crime. Still, your appearance can affect sentencing.
How good a defendant looks shouldn’t be the sole determining factor in finding someone guilty or innocent, nor should it be the only factor determining jail time or fines and court costs, but studies have shown that it does.
But not all defendants are wealthy, have connections, or are skilled at gaming the system. So, till someone comes up with a fairer system, you are entitled to do whatever you can to level the playing field.
So, what can you do to make sure that you look your best when facing criminal charges in court? First and foremost, brush your teeth and hair, put on some clean clothes, and don’t forget to shower. Secondly, try to avoid curse words or abusive language when addressing the judge. Finally, observe what other people are wearing in court and dress accordingly. Remember, the way you look and act in court can have a significant impact on the outcome of your case.
So, there you have it. Some helpful tips to remember when appearing in court. Just because you are facing criminal charges does not mean that you have to throw away all semblance of respect and dignity. By taking the time to dress and act appropriately, you can show the court that you are a responsible member of society.