Proper Behavior in Court, A Defendant's Guide
Be PunctualMake sure that you never arrive late for court. Judges tolerate attorneys who arrive late for court, knowing that many hearings are held at the same time in different courtrooms. But they don't like it when defendants arrive late for their own cases, and they hold the ultimate sanction for tardiness. They can, and sometimes do, revoke defendants' out-of-custody status and remand them into custody. Even when they do not use their power in this way, judges usually consider a defendant's tardiness more than a slight transgression.
Getting to court early allows a defendant to familiarize himself or herself with the surroundings.
Impress the judge and the opposition attorney with your attitude and respect for the court by arriving on time.
Dress to ImpressMy clients dress to impress. I make sure to remind them that when they look, they feel good, and when they feel good, their confidence can help unnerve the prosecutor.
You should dress the way you'd dress if you were interviewing for a really great job, or how you'd dress for church, a funeral, or another important event.
Men should wear a jacket, dress slacks, a dress shirt & a tie. Ladies should wear a dress or a suit. Even if you don't usually dress up to go to work, you should invest in a nice outfit to wear to court. If you're unsure of yourself, get tips from a well-dressed acquaintance or sales clerk. With some careful attention to detail, my clients often look better than the DA. This annoys prosecutors no end.
Grooming, too, is important. Haircuts are a must. No visible tattoos, and no facial jewelry for men. Remember, you're there to impress jurors who may not be like you. Be on the safe side and dress conservatively
Drop the Negative AttitudesShow respect for the court. Be polite, but being polite doesn't necessarily mean that you have to have perfect etiquette, For example, many attorneys instruct their clients to address the judge as "Your Honor." That's okay, and it is the proper title, but it's my experience that when a criminal defendant addresses the judge as "Sir" or "Ma'am," it sounds better, more genuine. You've probably heard the old gag, "Sincerity is the key. Fake that and you've got it made." Well, the same goes for "yes, sir," and "no, sir."
When I hear defendants say, "Yes, Your Honor, No, Your Honor," it sounds to me as if an attorney told them how to answer. When my clients say, "Yes, sir and no, sir," it sounds better, more genuine, not contrived. It's more natural, and comes off as genuinely respectful. It's just wrong enough to sound like that's the way the client was raised and is used to speaking all of the time. That he's answering the question, not just following my instructions.
Keep a Poker FaceWhen you're in court and listening to testimony, keep a poker face. Poker players don't let their opponents know what they're thinking. A criminal defendant in trial is in a similar situation, but he or she has much more to lose than a large pot. Keeping a poker face means not letting anyone in court know how you're reacting to the testimony. The worst example is when a defendant sits quietly while listening to a witness saying all sorts of bad things about him, but when the witness says one little thing that he disagrees with, he erupts as if the witness is lying. An onlooker will wonder why he wasn't showing similar emotion when the witness was saying all those terrible things about him. Was it because that testimony was true?
A jury expects that you know in advance what the witness is going to say, because you have the reports. If you remain expressionless, i.e., you keep a poker face, no one will have an advantage on you by knowing what's going on in your head.
Leaving CourtAs soon as your matter is over, you'll want to talk to your lawyer. You should immediately go outside of the courtroom and wait to talk to him. Remaining at counsel table and expecting your lawyer to talk to you there is inappropriate. It interferes with order in the court, and it wouldn't be a very private conversation. Be patient. You'll want to meet your lawyer in a private and secure location so you can ask him what in the world just went down in court. Then you can go about your business.
Make sure that you are polite to everyone that you meet in court, because you're probably going to see the same individuals when you return to court the next time. And keep in mind that you are being watched. One last thing, if you just admitted to the judge that you don't have a drivers license, don't let yourself be seen driving away from the courthouse. You may very well be stopped by the same courtroom officer who was in court when you said that you didn't have a license.