When stepping into any courtroom, it is best to enter with an attitude of respect for the building and the people in it. After all, it is those people who will ultimatley decide your case. As such, whether you are going before a judge, jury, or prosecutor, the first thing that will be noticed about you is what you are wearing. What a person wears can convey to people an image of who they are. If you are accused of breaking someone's arm in a fight and show up to court in a UFC tee shirt, it could convey that you are a fighter, and make the judge/jury/prosecutor assume that you committed the crime. In order to avoid such stereotypes, dress as if you were attending a formal event. I always recommend a suit and tie, but if that is not an option you could wear a nice pair of khakis and a dress shirt. But whatever the case may be, you want to convey an image of respect and civility so that you are not looked down upon from the start.
There is nothing more uncomfortable to be around than a person who hasn't brushed their teeth, or showered for days. It is hard to stay focused on the task at hand when you can only pay attention to the odors of the person sitting next to you. However, if you are incarcerated at the time of your hearing, there's not much that you can do. Other than in that situation, take the time to wake up early, brush your teeth, shower, and put on clean clothes. After all, you want to make the best impression on the court that you can. If you show up to court unkempt, you may convey to the court that you don't care and are not taking the proceedings seriously.
In the last section I recommended that you keep your breath fresh when you step into court. However, you do not want to accomplish this by chomping on gum while you are in the courtroom. Many judges have major problems with this, and will order you to leave the courtroom if they catch you with gum in your mouth. Additionally, chewing on gum gives off the impression that you have a lax attitude towards the proceedings. Whether that is the case or not, you certainly do not want the court to think it is.
If at all possible, leave your cell phone in the car. If you have to have the phone because of an emergency situation, make absolute sure that it is set to SILENT...not vibrate...SILENT. I cannot stress this point enough. There is nothing more disruptive to a court proceeding than a ringing cell phone, and most judges have no tolerance for this. One of the judges I went before would actually confiscate the phone, and send it to Iraq for the troops to use. The last thing you want to happen on your court date is to be the person whose cell phone goes off. It is embarassing to you, and makes you look disprespectful.
Talking in the Courtroom
If you are waiting for your case to be called and you are sitting in the audience...keep silent. Although your case is not up, someone else's case is, and the judge will not look favorably on having to stop the current case just to ask you to be quiet. If your chatter is disruptive enough, the judge may have you removed from the courtroom, or even sentenced to jail days for contempt. But more importantly, it is just rude and you don't want the judge or jury to be irritated with you before your case has even been called.
How to Address the Judge, Magistrate, Attorneys, and Other Court Personnel
When you are speaking to a judge or magistrate, make sure to respond to them as, "your honor." This conveys respect, and makes you look like you respect the nature of the proceeding. When speaking to other court personnel, make sure that you show respect to them as well, by calling them, "sir" or "ma'am. After all, they are the ones who process your case and get you quickly on your way. When it comes to lawyers, you should also refer to them as "sir" or "ma'am," even if one of the attorneys is adverse to you. It makes you look better.
Do Not Speak Until Spoken To
When your case is called, sit or stand at the table and remain silent. Do not blurt out your opinion unless a judge or attorney asks you for it. Nothing shows greater disrespect than a defendant who speaks out of order and disrupts the court. If you have something to say to your attorney, write it on a piece of paper and give it to them. If you do not like what the prosecutor or a witness has to say, sit patiently and you will have your chance to present your case. If you want to keep the judge/jury on your side, don't give them a reason to believe you are a beligerent fool. If you have an attorney, he/she will do the speaking for you. In a worst case scenario, this behavior can get you thrown in jail for contempt.
How to Respond to Questions by the Judge, Your Attorney, and the Prosecutor
If you are on the witness stand or are being asked a question by the judge, how you speak can make a difference in your presentation. First of all, speak clearly. What you say doesn't matter if the court cannot understand you. Second, do not scoff at questions that you don't like. Doing this will make you look silly and look trapped, which is the opposite of what you want to accomplish. Finally, look at the person who is asking the question when you speak. This shows that you are actively engaged in the conversation, and avoids making you look like you are trying to avoid the question.
How to Respond When the Verdict is Delivered
At this point you will be holding your breath and hoping for the best. Unfortunatley, sometimes a case will not end in your favor. When this does happen, you must hold back the urge to tell off all of the people in the courtroom. No matter how angry you are, you cannot lash out and make a fool of yourself, and destroy the respectful image you have conveyed throughout the proceedings. The judge still has to sentence you. If you lash out, the judge could decide against a less severe penalty, and throw the book at you. Even after the sentencing, you must remain calm because the judge could add jail days to your sentence for contempt.
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