Court Hearings and Procedures
For those that have never appeared in court, or have limited experience with the court system, the various court procedures may seem foreign and strange. As criminal defense attorneys, we work in these courts on a daily basis, and often are asked about how to behave in court, or what will happen. It is important to remember that courts are run by the judges who preside over them. Since judges are people, and people are all different, most courts are also different in certain ways. I've heard of judges refusing to allow poorly dressed attorneys or police officers into their courts, and I have seen a man running madly from the courthouse in search of long pants, on a hot summer day in Eastern Washington. It is important to ask your defense lawyer how you should behave or dress for a specific courtroom or judge. They will have the best information about what to expect.
What to Wear to Court
In general, I recommend that people accused of a crime dress nicely when coming to court. There is nothing worse that showing up to your DUI hearing in a Budweiser shirt, and I have seen it happen on multiple occasions. You are surely not going to make a good impression on the judge or prosecutor in that fashion.
I recommend nice pants or slacks with a collared button down shirt for men, and something similar for women or perhaps a conservative dress. You should not wear clothing that is too tight or too loose, your pants should not be sagging, you should not wear a hat to court, take your sunglasses off before entering court, and you should generally dress like you are going to church. I usually tell my clients not to dress too nicely, meaning: no tuxedos; no nightclub type clothing; and avoid full suits that make you look like one of the defense lawyers at your initial hearings. At a trial we may ask you to dress more formally, in a suit and tie, when a jury is present.
Other Courtroom Rules
- Don't be late! You can actually be charged with a crime for being late to court, depending on the circumstances. I also know of at least one court where the judge will admonish you and restart your speedy trial period, if you are one minute late to her court.
- Stand up when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom, this is considered a sign of respect and you will usually hear the court clerk say "all rise", before the judge enters or leaves the courtroom.
- Don't bring minor children to court with you, or anyone disruptive to the proceedings.
- Don't use your cell phone or camera in court, and generally be respectful of courtroom etiquette.
- It is nearly universal that you may not bring food or drink into the courtroom, and you should never chew gum or disrupt the proceedings in any way.
- Keep conversation to a minimum.