Written by attorney Andrew W. Cowan

Guide to Court Etiquette in Massachusetts Criminal Courts

Guide to Court Etiquette in Massachusetts Criminal Courts

By Andrew W. Cowan, with input from many others

In General

Court is a serious place, in which serious things happen that affect people for the rest of their lives. Judges, district attorneys, court officers and court clerks take their jobs very seriously. Court etiquette is about respecting the seriousness and impact of what happens in court, and performing certain behaviors that court employees expect . Please also respect the fact that many other people are in court because they, or their loved ones, are facing charges that represent some of the most serious obstacles in their lives. Some of the people there are in danger of losing their freedom for very long periods of time. Please show them respect, even if this is not your situation.

What to Wear and What Not to Wear

· Don’t wear a hat, chew gum, or have anything in your mouth in the courtroom; no eating or drinking in the courtroom. Turn your cell phone off or put it on silent mode (not vibrate) before going into the courtroom

· Dress as close to “business" or “church" clothes as possible. Try to avoid wearing jeans, sweats, and track suits. Don’t wear clothes with obvious holes. Don't wear clothing that depicts or glorifies drug use or other illegal activities.

· Take your winter coat off indoors (to show off how dressed up you are!)

While waiting inside the courtroom

· Court officers will not allow you to read or use electronic devices in the courtroom.

· Once the judge comes out onto the bench, court officers are usually very strict about enforcing silence so that the court can conduct its business

· Do not bring any food or beverages into the courtroom, unless they are stored out of sight.

· If you must make or take a phone call, send a text message, or do anything else with your phone, step outside the courtroom.

· If you need to step outside the courtroom for any reason, wait for a pause in between cases or a conversation at sidebar. Try to avoid going out while people are talking with the judge. If you must, be very quiet.

· Stand when the court officers say, “all rise." Sit when the court officer or the judge says, “you may be seated."

· If you have questions for your lawyer, step outside the courtroom to talk to him/her.

If you are the defendant, or if the judge asks you a question

· If the judge speaks to you, stand up.

· If you are speaking to the judge, stand up.

· Call the judge “your Honor." If asked a yes-or-no question, answer, “yes, your Honor" or “no, your Honor." Call the clerk “Madam Clerk" or “Mr. Clerk."

· After the judge and lawyers are finished, the clerk will announce the result of the hearing (even if the judge already said it) and tell you the next date. You’re not done (and can’t leave) until this happens.

· If you are not sure what is happening or what the judge is talking about, ask your lawyer immediately. You may only get one chance to be in front of the judge this day, so be aware of what is happening.

If somebody says something that upsets you:

Avoid scoffing, giggling, huffing, making faces, or whispering with your neighbor in the courtroom. Judges find this very annoying, and may ask you to leave the room or hold you in contempt.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo DUI email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer