When you have to make an appearance in court as a defendant, it’s important to leave the best impressions possible on those who will be judging you. The judge and jury will be carefully observing you as they listen to and weigh the evidence. If you make a bad impression on them, they may be more likely to see you as trouble-maker or deserving of a harsh sentence.
Here are six etiquette tips that will help people view you more favorably.
- Be on time. Always be punctual for your court appearance. Arriving at least 10 minutes in advance shows that you take your case seriously and have respect for the judge, jury, and attorneys’ time. Most courts have a full docket, and if you’re not present when the bailiff calls your case number, not only will the court reschedule the hearing, it may sanction you.
- Follow court rules. You should show general respect for the court and the criminal justice system. If you’re allowed to have your cell phone, turn it off before entering the courtroom. When the bailiff says “All rise” as the judge enters the court, stand up promptly and remain standing until the judge indicates that you may sit. Never chew gum, eat or drink anything inside the courtroom.
- Dress appropriately. You should dress neatly and conservatively when you appear in court. Dress as if you were going to an important job interview or religious ceremony. Avoid flashy colors, styles, jeans, or beachwear. Make sure that you’ve combed your hair and that it is clean and tidy.
- Have a good handle on your case information. Prepare for your hearing in advance. Know your case number, the charges against you, and what to expect from the particular hearing. You should also provide your criminal defense lawyer with any documents they requested well ahead of the hearing.
- Speak respectfully. If you must talk during your hearing, be polite and respectful. Always speak in a modest tone and never use foul language or insulting words or gestures. If you must address the judge, call them “Your Honor,” “Sir,” or “Ma’am” as a sign of respect. Remember to avoid speaking aloud unless you have permission. If you need to communicate with your attorneys, pass them a note or whisper, if urgent.
- Check your temper. A hearing or trial is undoubtedly a highly emotional event, but you must avoid showing anger. An angry outburst or action will likely offend the judge or jury, even if you think your feelings are justified. Show that you’re in control of your emotions by remaining cool.