If you are dealing with any legal issue, the court appearance is probably one of the most intimidating aspects of your case. Trust us; we know just how vulnerable it can feel to stand up in front of a judge and advocate for yourself. Court is where the big decisions are made, and court is where you have the most to lose.
As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we've been in the courtroom countless times, and we've represented clients who have many of the same concerns as you. And we can assure you that while court appearances can be nerve-wracking, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your interests.
So if you're feeling stressed about your court appearance, take a deep, calming breath and check out our simple suggestions below.
Top Six Tips for A Great Court Appearance
Most courtroom etiquette tends to fall under the umbrella of common sense. If you're a reasonable person with a pleasant demeanor, then you're off to a great start. However, there are some points which are always worth stressing.
Here are what we consider some of the most important rules to follow if you want to have the best possible appearance in court.
1. Know that court dress code can vary... but when in doubt, dress up
Appearance really is everything. First impressions matter. Classy attire and cleanliness will show the court that you are a productive member of society, while sweatpants and a hoodie will suggest the opposite.
However, not every court appearance calls for a three-piece suit. We usually don't advise clients we represent for a traffic ticket to dress up to the nines. In some cases, a pair of khakis (without rips and tears, of course) and a nice shirt will suffice. You can always check the dress code with your attorney.
If you're still not sure, though? It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Play it safe by picking that blazer or button-up instead of a crewneck.
2. Be on time, be on time, be on time
A judge's day is busy, and few things can irritate them more than tardiness or no-shows. By showing up late (or not at all), you'll not only disrupt the running of the courtroom but also create more work for the judge and clerks. That, in turn, will put a dampener on everyone's day. If the prosecution and judge are already unhappy from the get-go, you can bet they'll be less likely to show you leniency.
Additionally, consider what kind of message tardiness sends. If you show up late, the judge and prosecution can easily assume you don't care enough about your case -- and that assumption will have a negative impact on the results of your case.
When in doubt, following this universal rule will never hurt: arriving 10 minutes early means you are on time, and arriving on time means you are late. Aim to arrive early, and do not arrive late.
3. Allow extra time for courthouse procedures
Arriving on-time to your court appearance at 9:30 is not the same as pulling into the parking lot at 9:30. Just like many public venues, larger courthouses often have check-in or security procedures which can eat into your time. If you get out of your car at the exact time your court begins, chances are you will be late to your court appearance.
The good news is, avoiding such a dilemma is quite simple. Just take a few minutes to conduct some research and brush up on courthouse procedure. Try browsing your county or courthouse website, and check in with your attorney if you're not sure. It's important to find out this information before your court date, which leads us directly to our next point:
4. Advance preparation is key
Being prepared means placing the calls you need to place, compiling the papers you need to compile, and making any necessary arrangements -- all before your court date. If you need to find a ride, it helps to arrange for one in advance. If you have community service, don't put it off until the last week before your court date, because chances are you might run out of time to complete all your required hours. Do you have a regular job? Make sure you are properly excused from work.
If you think of something -- an urgent question, a sudden commitment, or an accommodation you need, communicate them in a timely manner and get the issue resolved sooner rather than later. Inform your attorney promptly, so they can begin working towards a resolution without delay.
Don't wait until the evening before your court date -- or the day of -- to make a request. By then, it may be too late to resolve the issue. Courthouses, judges, and attorneys handle hundreds of cases on a daily basis, which means last-minute requests aren't always accommodated.
5. Be courteous and respectful to everyone around you
We really do mean everyone -- the judge, opposing counsel, the bailiff or staff, your counsel, and the court-goers around you.
Think about the last time you were in a public place. How did you judge the people around you? Did you witness someone acting rude to a peer? How did that make you feel?
Just like any public space, the courtroom is full of individuals who pay attention to their surroundings and make split-second judgments of the people around them. It just so happens that several of these individuals may hold considerable sway over your case. From the moment you enter the courtroom, your attitude and behavior are under scrutiny. Rudeness will most certainly be noted, while respect and courtesy will reflect well on your character.
An additional tip: Address the judge as ‘Your Honor.' It show's both your respect for the judge's authority as well as your detailed understanding of courtroom etiquette.
6. Know when it's time to seek legal representation
At the end of the day, everyone has a right to self-representation. You will always have the choice to represent your own case and forgo hiring a lawyer. However, complicated court cases typically have better outcomes and run more smoothly when you have a lawyer to advocate for you.
Not only are attorneys fluent in court jargon and legal terms which can often sound like a foreign language, but they can also read complex situations and create solutions the average person might not even think of. A seasoned attorney is like an expert strategist -- they will know precisely which arguments to make and what your realistic outcomes are.
We're not trying to convince you that everyone needs a lawyer for every court case, because that's absolutely not true; many individuals have successfully represented themselves without the help of a lawyer. There are cases you are entirely capable of handling on your own. But, it's important to know your limits and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Does your case require multiple court appearances? Are the consequences severe if you lose your case? If so, it may be time to seek professional legal advice.
And if you do need the guidance of a lawyer? The attorneys of Dolci & Weiland are here to assist you. If you are at a point where you wish to seek legal assistance for your case, give our law office a call at (630) 261-9098 to set up a free legal consultation and find out how we can help you.