If you have a courtroom appearance approaching, you may wonder what the rules of behavior in court are and how to leave the best impression. You’ll have to follow courtroom etiquette, whether you’re a defendant, witness, lawyer, or spectator.
“What is courtroom etiquette?” you might ask. In simple terms, it refers to the rules of proper conduct in a courtroom. This article will provide an overview of what is expected of you in a courtroom setting.
1. Arrive Early
You should arrive on time for your court appearance. However, to be sure you’re not late, it’s best to aim to arrive early, as you never know what could happen on your way to the court.
Arriving early will give you plenty of time to find the way around the courthouse, locate your courtroom, and speak to the court clerk if you have any questions. It may also help your case if you’re a defendant, as punctuality indicates you’re a responsible person, regardless of what kind of criminal defense you’re claiming.
2. Dress Appropriately - No Shorts, Tank Tops, or Hats
When making a courtroom appearance, you should wear appropriate attire. While there is no one right way to dress, it’s important to remember that you’re entering a professional environment and should present yourself accordingly. It means tossing aside your shorts, mini dresses, tank tops, and anything else that is too revealing.
Apart from revealing clothes, other items are deemed inappropriate according to the courtroom rules of etiquette. These items include hats and leggings.
Also, some prints on clothes are improper, as well. For instance, in a now infamous case, an accused drug dealer wore a sweatshirt with a crack cocaine print to his court appearance. While this is an extreme case, you should make sure you don’t wear clothes with patterns that could be deemed unprofessional.
Although most of these courtroom dress etiquette pointers are universal, different judges may impose additional rules on what is appropriate to wear in court, so it’s best to check the dress code to be sure. For example, some judges permit wearing jeans, while others don’t. The same applies to sandals.
3. Always Turn Off Your Phone
Refraining from using the cell phone in court is one of the basic courtroom etiquette rules. Generally, courts warn attendees to turn off their phones before the proceeding begins. However, it’s not uncommon for people to disregard this. You should take this seriously, as you can be held in contempt and fined if your phone starts ringing.
There was quite an unusual case where a judge held himself in contempt and issued a $25 fine after his cell phone went off. Namely, Judge Rocky Coss of the Highland County Court of Common Pleas forgot to leave the phone in his office like he always did, and his wife called, interrupting the proceeding. Thus, dedicated to leading by example, this judge punished himself like he would any court attendee.
4. Keep Your Emotions in Check - No Angry Outbursts
It doesn’t matter if you’re a defendant facing criminal mischief charges, for instance, or you appear in court to support a family member or friend; it’s paramount that you know how to behave in court. Proper court behavior includes not letting your emotions take over.
Some people get angry when they feel they’ve been wronged. Others may cry when they’re upset. It’s perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions in court, but keeping them in check is important.
Losing your temper will not help your case, and it will only make the situation more difficult, as it shows a lack of respect for the court, and as a result, you could be held in contempt. Crying, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable. Studies have shown that sadness doesn’t negatively impact jurors’ decisions, while anger and disgust do.
Showing sadness and crying can even help in some cases. It can help the case if it’s sincere, specifically for testifying victims or defendants who aren’t guilty. If you become overcome with emotions, the judge will probably call for a recess so that you can compose yourself.
5. Be Respectful to the Judge and Other Courtroom Personnel
As we’ve mentioned, angry outbursts don’t sit well with judges or the jurors. Such outbursts directed toward the judge and other courtroom staff can be even more damaging to the impression you leave in court.
However, if you’re being cross-examined, don’t forget your fifth amendment rights. You have the right not to answer a question that could incriminate you. It will not be deemed disrespectful but rather as exercising your civil right.
Showing respect entails standing up when speaking in court, addressing the judge as “your honor,” and speaking clearly and loudly enough when it’s your turn. You should also be careful about your body language. Avoid rolling your eyes, frowning, or making any other rude expressions.
6. Do Not Bring Food or Drinks Into the Courtroom
Bringing food or beverages into the courtroom is against proper courtroom etiquette in most courts. The same applies to gum and cigarettes. These rules exist so that the courtroom is kept as clean as possible and the proceedings aren’t disrupted.
7. If You Can, Avoid Bringing Children
Many judges prohibit minors from being present in the courtroom. Very young children won’t comprehend the seriousness of a courtroom proceeding and can be loud while attending.
Therefore, since they are likely not to understand the rules of courtroom behavior, it’s best to hire a babysitter or have a family member watch the kids while you attend the proceeding.
8. If You Need to Leave, Ask First
There may be times when you need to step out of the courtroom for a break. Maybe you need to use the restroom or feel unwell. If that’s the case, it’s a part of the courtroom decorum that you ask the judge’s permission before leaving.
The last thing you want is to be seen as disrespectful or uninterested in the case. So, if you need to take a break, simply raise your hand and politely ask the judge for permission to leave. Chances are, they’ll say yes.
In some instances, if the case being reviewed is yours, it’s enough to let the bailiff know where you’re going and exit the courtroom quietly.
On a Final Note
Ultimately, the basics of courtroom etiquette come down to appearing professional and showing respect to the court. By following these simple guidelines, from the rules of courtroom conversation to the dress code, you can ensure that you make a positive impression and avoid any potential problems.