Going to court is a little like going to church. If you can behave properly, everyone is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you came in your gym clothes or your Sunday best, most churches will welcome you. Think of court the same way…as long as your gym clothes cover all of your body parts and don’t have pot leaves or beer advertisements.
What is ideal to wear to court?
Assuming you are just going for an Arraignment or a Pre-trial hearing, you are going to be in and out of the courtroom in five or ten minutes (once it’s your turn). If you are coming from work, you are mostly likely dressed appropriately for court. You don’t need a suit or dress. If you have a collared shirt, that’s best. If you only have t-shirts with inappropriate logos or bands on the front, it might be time to splurge. Even a $10 collared shirt from Walmart will go a long way to give the right impression—you’re appreciating the seriousness of the situation. This is true for women or men.
Hoping you can skip or avoid your court date? Watch this video to learn more about when you can waive your Arraignment.
What should I wear for trial?
This is an important question. Make sure you ask your lawyer. It never hurts to have a suit or a dress ready but it’s always best to discuss your appearance ahead of time with your lawyer. It might be time to cut your long hair for a clean cut look. Juries are people and it’s naive to think that some jurors won’t be making judgments about your appearance. If you look like Charles Manson, a makeover might be in order.
On the flip side, do not go overboard. I once took a continuing ed class from a lawyer who told a funny story about the need for defense attorneys to give DETAILED advice on this topic. Without much thought, he told his client to “dress up a little” for her trial. The client arrived ready for trial in something that was a mix of a pageant dress and a homecoming gown. Needless to say, there was some serious scrambling at the last minute.
How much talking will I be expected to do?
If you are in the early stages of your case, your lawyer will be doing 99% of the talking. When you are being Arraigned, the judge will likely ask if your name is spelled correctly on the charging document and do you understand what you are being charged with, which will be on the Complaint. Remember, the judge is not asking if you agree with the charging document. She just wants to know that you have seen it (your lawyer should show it to you) and that you understand the potential maximum penalties. So, if your name is spelled correctly and you have seen the Complaint, you would simply answer, “Yes, Your Honor.” It’s pretty basic.
If you are going to trial (not the same as a pre-trial hearing), you will only be speaking if you and your lawyer have decided it is a good idea that you take the stand. Otherwise, you are not speaking in front of the jury.
If you are convicted, you will likely be speaking at your sentencing. Again, your defense attorney would be advising you in advance of what you should or should not say.
Go to our Resources page for local Zoom links.
What if I am appearing on Zoom court?
Act as though you are in a courtroom! I cannot emphasize this enough!
Since we have seen some of the craziest stuff over the last two years, this list is going to look a bit crazy. Apparently, some folks really need things spelled out. So, here are some pointers for zoom court:
- Get out of bed.
- Put on clothes. Make sure it is not something that resembles pajamas or a bathrobe.
- Do not eat breakfast, lunch, or a snack while on zoom court. You are not permitted to eat in a courtroom so don’t do it on Zoom.
- Mute yourself until it is your turn. I repeat…mute yourself! Judges lose their minds when they have to tell you this twice.
- Do not smoke. Do not smoke. Do not smoke. Don’t do it.
- Do not vape. Do not vape. Do not vape. Don’t do it.
- Stay seated. Don’t walk around cleaning your apartment like you have “free time” in between defendants.
- Remind everyone in your household that you are in court. They need to keep the television, radio, and video games OFF. Talk to your kids beforehand. This is not the time for them to scream, “When are you making lunch! I’m starving!”
- Do not turn on zoom court on your phone and your laptop. You are going to sound like there is a reverb and the judge will yell at you.
- Did I mention mute yourself until it is your turn?
- Do not be dramatic. Do not have people yelling for your innocence in the background.
- Do not take this time to say things like “How could this be happening?!?” or “I don’t understand anything!!!” You are likely to be requested to seek a mental health evaluation right away so the court knows whether you are mentally fit. If you have questions, ask your lawyer in advance. If you have a public defender, you might be out of luck but you can try to request a “break out room” once it is your turn.
- If you are not good with technology or you know you will want to ask the public defender questions, go to the courthouse in person. If you have private defense, you have already had numerous discussions prior to court so this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Show up or sign in early. This will prevent panic and give you time to call or text your attorney if you’re having trouble.
Finally, remember that the prosecutor is very busy and probably not noticing anything about you…unless you give her something to remember. Don’t do that. This means, do not bring in every family member so that your drama-loving great aunt starts calling the prosecutor evil or your kids are in there crying. You would be surprised what people will do to try to get sympathy. It almost always backfires. The worst thing for a defense attorney is when the prosecutor remembers very clearly that your client turned the Arraignment into a dog and pony show. After that, it’s nearly impossible to redeem your client.