Most of my clients have never been in trouble before. Aside from jury duty, they may have not previously been in a courtroom. At best, going to court, especially if you are accused of something serious, is very stressful. There can be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Much of that anxiety is due to not knowing what is going to happen and what to do. This article is to give anyone going to court a few guidelines to follow.
How do you Dress? You need to take going to court seriously. I have always told my clients to dress like they are going to a job interview. You want to try to make a good first impression. You absolutely want to avoid making a bad one. For men, a suit and tie are appropriate. If you are not comfortable in a tie, a button-down shirt and sports coat would be fine. Don’t show up to court like you just rolled out of bed. Make sure your clothing is clean and neat. For woman, error on dressing more conservative. This is not the time to make a bold statement – fashion, political or otherwise. Things to avoid – anything that might be controversial. Shorts or super short dresses should be left for another time. Wear real shoes – not flip flops. The bottom line is that you want to show respect to the Court. This will never hurt and might make a positive difference.
Everyone is watching and listening to you. You might not realize it, but you are being watched from the moment that you walk in the building. The Bailiffs, the court attendants, the clerks, and other personnel are walking around. You may not recognize them, but if you do anything that stands out – especially something negative – someone in the system will hear or see it. And remember, these people talk and there is a high chance that that information will get back to the judge. If you are in the hallway making a fuss – the judge will find out. Just keep in mind that when you are in the Courthouse, it is important to be on your best behavior.
Know where to go and what time to show up. In my experience, much of the stress related to being in court has to do being late. It is very important that you be on time. Some judges are very picky about this and there will be negative consequences if you are not there at the appointed hour. Avoid being late by knowing exactly where you are going, including what court room. Anticipate whether there will be traffic. Monday mornings are notorious for bad traffic days. Know where you are going to park. You may have to park some distance away. Have a good idea how long it takes to get from your front door to the courtroom. You will have to go through the metal detector and that might take 5 to 10 minutes. Plan for that. It is always better to be early than late. As a side note – don’t bring anything that you don’t need. Be careful not to bring any knifes, scissors or other sharp objects. For women, go through your purse before you get out of your car and just make sure here is nothing hidden away that might be a problem.
Don’t say anything. When in the court room, especially before the judge, let your attorney do all the talking. Anything you say in the courtroom could be recorded and might be used against you in the case. Unless otherwise instructed by your attorney, let him or her do all of the talking.
What to expect. There are many kinds of court appearances. What is going to specifically happen in the courtroom in your case will depend upon the purpose of the appearance. If the case is just going to be continued to a different date the hearing will be relatively short. You may have to sit in the courtroom for a while, waiting for the judge to call the case, but for the most part those types of appearances are short. If there is going to be some kind of evidentiary hearing like a preliminary hearing or a jury trial, the hearing will be much longer and there will be testimony presented. It is very important that you talk to your legal counsel about what type of hearing you will be going to and what can you expect to occur. There is no substitute to hearing directly from your lawyer what he/she believes is going to happen so you can plan. Things to ask: 1. How long will this take. Do you need to plan on the whole day, multiple days or just a few hours? 2. What is the goal of the hearing? What is your lawyer hoping to achieve 3. What is the expected outcome? There is the goal, but the outcome may be different. 4. Is there anything that you need to prepare?
Going to court can be very stressful. Minimize the stress by knowing what is going to happen and planning your day so that you have sufficient time to arrive without being late. It is always best to have a conversation with your attorney beforehand so that you are clear on what is expected of you and what the anticipated outcome will be.