For some of you, this may seem like a silly question. However, there are a lot of people who have never stepped foot in a courthouse or are young and have never heard of “business casual.” Never feel too embarrassed to ask your lawyer about courtroom protocol because putting your best foot forward can only help your case. Being appropriately dressed and groomed is helpful but there are a few other suggestions we would like to make:
1. Confirm with your lawyer that you know the date, time, and courtroom where you are required to be. Do NOT do this an hour before court. If you have an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is likely that she has been in three courtrooms before you have even parked your car. The attorney is rarely able to answer phone calls on the morning of court. Call the office the week before your court date. Make sure to provide a good phone number (one that you will answer on the morning of your expected court date). If plans change, the attorney or office can reach you to give you updates.
2. Always plan to arrive to court 15 minutes early. Depending on the court location, parking can be a hassle. For example, you might need to walk a fairly long distance in Pierce County.
3. Be prepared for security. If you carry a lot of “trinkets” in your purse or pockets that might set off the scanner, it is probably best to leave those at home. Go into the courthouse with the bare minimum so you can get through security quickly.
4. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. This should probably be #1 on the list. It looks incredibly rude to have your phone go off in court. Some judges will make that mistake a VERY memorable occasion for you. Trust us on this one!
5. Remember any paperwork that you may need.
6. If asked to address the Court, the correct response to the judge is “Your Honor.”
7. As far as appearance, wear clothes that are appropriate for a job interview. If you don’t have slacks, a button up shirt, or a simple dress, then wear something that does not draw attention. For example, no funny t-shirts, no beer/weed references, or inappropriate language. Not everyone owns “fancy” clothes and that is understandable. However, if that is your situation, do your best to have clean, neatly pressed, non-torn up clothing. Remember, your appearance says something to the Prosecutor. Does it say that you are taking this situation seriously?
As a side note, try not to panic. Often, the stress of mentally and physically preparing for court can cause unintended side-effects. Your demeanor may change in a negative way and it might appear that you are being disrespectful or dismissive. If you have never been to court before, let your attorney know so that you have a basic understanding of what will be happening. For an Arraignment, people often think something “big” is happening. Generally, that is not the case. In fact, an Arraignment is quite uneventful and, unless you are waiting for in-custody defendants, you will be in and out of court fairly quickly.
While knowing what to wear is important, the best thing you can do for yourself is be prepared mentally. Most clients want the process to “hurry up and go away” so life can get back to normal. Unfortunately, it is rarely a quick process.
Keep an open dialogue with your lawyer about your concerns but also trust that he or she is working behind the scenes to find defenses and negotiate a positive outcome in your case. Nearly all of the work a defense attorney does on your behalf is done outside of the courtroom. Your court appearance is simply a formality and the negotiation happens over the phone, by email, and even in the courthouse hallways as defense attorneys try to catch busy prosecutors racing from one courtroom to the next.
The criminal justice system is somewhat like controlled chaos. That is hard for most people to understand. It is messy but things are happening in the “order” they should. Follow the suggestions above and you will help your defense attorney by being present, on time, and respectful of the process.