Court Room Appearance And Etiquette

Chicago Criminal Attorney Explains Court Room Appearance and Etiquette

How To Make a More Effective Appearance in Court

Let us suppose that you have been arrested and/or charged with an offense that requires you to make a personal appearance in court before a judge. You want to make the best impression possible, so that the judge looks upon you and your case favorably. Here are some observations from a seasoned legal practitioner about what you can do, and what you should not do, to help your cause.

Dress for Court

First of all, too many people seem to think that a court house is like a bus station. They show up in clothing that is entirely too casual, or even worse, disrespectful to the judge, the court room, and the solemnity (seriousness) of the proceedings. Remember, the United States, State of Illinois, local county and/or city flags (such as Chicago) are on display.

The judge, the prosecutors and other attorneys are all considered officers of the court, and have each taken a Constitutional Oath to uphold the laws of the land. Oaths are administered, sworn testimony is being taken, and judgments are being rendered. This is serious stuff, so if you wish to be taken seriously as well, do not show up in shorts, tank tops/t-shirts, flip-flops, or filthy/ratty/holey clothes. Remember, you are not spending a day at the beach, or at a barbeque in the forest preserve. But if you are wearing a work uniform and have just returned from, or are on your way to work, I would not be concerned. The judge will generally understand and will not consider this disrespectful.

Whether you are a male or female, do not show up in extremely revealing clothes that displays your body. It really does not cut a lot of ice with the Judge. Just recently, we observed a man at the Criminal Courts building sporting a T Shirt which bore the message "THUG LIFE 4 EVER". We have no idea what he may have been charged with, but we can assure you the Judge was not pleased, and it could not have significantly helped his defense. Of that, we am certain. So don't do that. Just...don't.

Instead, dress appropriately, the way you would if you were going to church or other house of worship, or if you were going to work in a bank or some professional office environment. You do not have to put on a suit and tie to be presentable in court.

For a man, a nice pair of clean slacks, or even jeans may be appropriate (slacks are better), and a clean button-down shirt (a tie is optional, although recommended). If going to trial, a suit is preferred, with a tie to look professional, but also to show the utmost of respect for the court and/or jury, and the seriousness of the proceedings.

For a woman, any kind of presentable, modest, attire will do, whether dresses, skirts, slacks, or pant suits. Do not wear miniskirts, short shorts/"Daisy Dukes", low cut blouses, tube tops, or anything else showing too much. Remember, it is not a night club — they are not serving anything but justice, and a disrespectful appearance undermines your chances.

Proper Court Room Behavior

It is not enough to dress properly, you must also behave appropriately. This starts off with arriving to court on time. You are a Defendant in a criminal or traffic case. If you are late, and your case was called in your absence, there are a number of bad things that can happen, the worst of which is to have your bond on your case ordered "forfeited", and to have a warrant issued for your arrest. However, if you are running late, and you are able to do so, you should notify your lawyer immediately so that he can advise the court of your circumstances, and possibly prevent the issuance of a warrant.

If, for some reason you are completely unable to appear in court at the designated time and place, you had better advise your attorney in advance of the problem, so that they can either request a new court date for you, or at least have time to notify the prosecutor, so that they can call off any witnesses they may have, in order that they need not appear unnecessarily. This will greatly increase your chances of not having your bond forfeited or a warrant issued for your arrest.

Cell Phones Off in Court

Once you are in court, please turn off your cell phones or other electronic devices so that they do not "go off" while court is in session. We have seen judges actually hold people in contempt and lock them up for cell phone "violations" in the court room, we have seen people ejected from the court room and we have seen phones confiscated. Also, there is no reading allowed in the court room, so put away that newspaper or novel, and give the court the attention it deserves. Do NOT talk in the court room while the judge is on the bench—sound carries in the court rooms, and the judge is trying to focus on the case he is hearing, not listen to you talk about your neighbor about the annoying dog that barks all night.

When your case is called before the court, you step up with your lawyer, and stand to his or her right, if the prosecutor is on the left, or visa-versa. The point is to symbolically place your lawyer between you and the State, and to allow proper distance from the prosecutor and/or State witnesses. It is always appropriate to greet the Judge with a courteous "Good Morning/Afternoon your Honor" when you step up, and to acknowledge the judge's greeting to you. Other than that, you do not speak unless spoken to by the judge. Many of my clients ask what they should say before the bench, and an effective lawyer takes the time to prepare his client for the appearance before the court on a particular day, based upon what is going to happen.

Stand When the Judge Enters the Courtroom

Besides these general rules that you should follow on a routine court appearance, there are some additional rules to follow when your case goes to trial, whether before a judge or a jury. First of all, when the judge or the jury enters the court room, you rise to attention, and do not sit until the bailiff or court room deputy tell you to do so. The judge will likely ask you questions that address your assertion of rights or your waiver of rights, and your lawyer will prepare you ahead of time as to how you should answer those questions properly. You cannot waive your rights in open court unless and until the judge has satisfied himself that you understand those rights, and that you are giving them up freely and voluntarily, absent any threats or false promises. If at any point you do not understand what is being said or asked of you, say so, and it will be explained to you. Do not, under any circumstances, exhibit impatience with the court during this procedure, as that will not help your defense one bit, and you may do yourself real harm in the long run.

Your Rights at a Trial in Chicago

During the trial, one of your key rights is the right to "confront the witnesses against you". This right allows you to be present in the room while each witness testifies (although in very limited circumstances the witness may be permitted to testify remotely on a TV screen, or if you are a danger or greatly disturb the proceedings, you could be sent to the lock up during the testimony). You can look at the witness, but only your lawyer can address the witness directly. The lawyer's cross examination is the essence of your right to confrontation.

Do not engage in vocal outbursts during the trial or make faces, gestures, or show your frustration. Yelling out "SHE'S LYING!!!!" does nothing to help your case. Instead, you sit there at the defense table, with a pad of paper and pen/pencil, and if you think something is important, write it down. Do not poke, prod, whisper at, or otherwise distract your lawyer during testimony, as that does nothing to assist your defense, and it undermines your lawyer's effectiveness if he misses any of the testimony.

If you are not going to testify at trial, then you must do your level best to remain silent during the trial, and let the lawyer do the work. A great lawyer knows the facts of your case inside and out, the law of the case, and has a strategy for your defense that you can, in no way whatsoever, productively assist. If you are going to testify at trial, then you should pay extra attention to what the other witnesses before you said, so that you can address that testimony in the proper way when asked by your attorney, or on cross examination.

Yes, if you testify, you will be cross examined by the prosecutor, and you must answer his or her questions truthfully and completely, as is your oath. It is important to remember that, in most cases, the matter at hand is personal to you, but not to the prosecutor, and it is merely a job to him or her. The questions may be insulting to you and designed to rile you up or get you thinking unclearly, so that you make mistakes. Therefore, you should not let your emotions get the better of you. You should focus on the question put to you, and answer them as calmly and directly as you can, without getting into arguments. Leave the arguing to your lawyer, that's what he or she does best.

Prepare Properly With Our Experienced Legal Team

If you have been arrested or charged with a criminal offense, and must defend yourself in court, and you need the help of knowledgeable legal counsel. What you do, how you behave, and how you present yourself in court, can all make a difference in your case. The first thing you should do is call the experienced Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC. at (800) 996-4824, to schedule your absolutely free consultation.

Click here for more information about your rights after an arrest.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : May 20, 2020