Navigating the Courtroom: Tips and Pitfalls

Brian Richard Dinday

Written by

Criminal Defense Attorney

Contributor Level 16

Posted almost 6 years ago. 2 helpful votes



Do I Have To Hire A Lawyer?

Not always, but you need to at least talk to one before deciding to go it on your own. For example, if you picked up a drunk driving charge, and it's your first, and your blood alcohol was very high and you were treated fairly, you should talk to a lawyer to find out if there is any point fighting. He may say "no," and you might well save some money by pleading guilty on your own. But if you have a defense or are just plain not guilty, you'd be foolish to handle it yourself. There are many legal and factual issues you'd be unaware of, and the prosecutor will have an extreme advantage, even in plea bargaining. You might not know that 3 of the 4 charges are so weak as to be non-existent, but they might intimidate you into accepting a bad deal. Experienced defense counsel could help there.


Arrive on time

You'd think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? But I have had many clients show up late (repeatedly), despite my telling them that they can get their bail or O.R. revoked and be jailed just for being late. I've seen it. Excuses why you are late don't cut it. Getting up early and making it on time is key. Why? Even if you are not jailed, the judge gets the impression you are a screw-up. If later I have to ask the judge to trust you on something, what does he know about your reliability? Guess! I know, I know. You arrived on time the first four times and the JUDGE WAS LATE. Well, he's the judge, and anyway, he's in the back meeting with lawyers before he takes the bench. You just don't see him.


Does neatness count, Teacher?

Yep. Believe it or not. Again, the judge doesn't study your history for half an hour. All he knows about you is what he sees during your 2-7 minutes before him when your case is called. Now suppose I am there to oppose the prosecutor's motion to increase your bail and jail you all over again. (Yes, they can do that, and they DO!). Again, what does the judge know about you when I tell him that you'll appear every time as promised if he leaves your bail at the lower amount? Well, he sees your hair isn't washed; your shirt is dirty; your pants are falling down; and you've got a cartoon hand on your T-shirt that is flipping the world off. Is that someone he's going to trust? What if you were clean, combed, quiet and wearing a suit with shined shoes? Remember, what else does he have to go on, but what he sees? It won't kill you. Dress up.


Attitude, Attitude, Attitude

Now, I don't blame you for having a sour disposition. You have to take off work to be there. They make you wait all morning. Nothing good is going to come of it, and you risk losing your job with all these court appearances. But what do you gain for your position or your life by sneezing ("Bullshit!") under your breath? Do you think the bailiff doesn't go in the back and tell the judge about the wiseguy? Coming to court drunk isn't so smart either. The judge has a lot of power over your life right now. Why antagonize him or her? Intentionally showing the judge how bored you are might feel good or impress your friends, but is it worth the price if it means getting a longer jail sentence from the person who's going to decide that? You're coming to court to take care of business. Treat it like a business appointment and try to ACT respectful even if you don't feel it.



Yes, these are frustrating and wasteful, and not just for you. Judges, prosecutors, and I hate them too. But here's the thing: the Court drama takes a lot of people coming together to get a job done. When you have a party, do all of your guests always arrive on time? Do some fail to show up without calling? Well, it happens here too. The Probation Dept. may not have gotten their report done on time. Continuance. The D.A. who knows about your case might still be in a jury trial. Continuance. The judge who promised a particular deal to me might be sick. Continuance. Or I myself might have an unexpected conflict with another case. Continuance. Then there is always the kind of case where delay just seems to be a good strategy for your case (Prosecutors please don't read that!). Sometimes the best result is not the fastest one, and I am trying to get you results, right? So try to understand that being prosecuted is not intended for your convenience, and just accept it


What is with these people who bring their whole tribe to court? There are hardly any seats!

They're smart, that's what. Judges know that the criminal defendant who stands the best chance of reforming and going on to lead a straight, honest life, is the one with the support of his or her entire family. I had a juvenile client who committed a very serious crime, but she had 10 relatives who took off work every court appearance to be there, and believe me, it made an impact on the result in her case. Whether or not to grant probation; whether or not to send you to jail; and whether or not to offer a deal at all might be affected by having supportive family members highly visible. So don't knock it.


So everything will be sweetness and happiness if I am just the perfect Boy Scout, huh?

No. But everything can turn up pickle ice cream and bitter herbs if you aren't. How important these issues are can be seen from one case I had 20 years ago. A judge actually wrote in a "Lawyer's Guide" that attorneys should show up in his court with a fresh shoe shine, and that if they didn't , THEY COULD EXPECT IT TO AFFECT THE RESULT. Now, if one judge would actually admit that in writing, how many other judges are secretly slamming the accused for other silly things? Think about it.

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