It stands to reason that if you’re in court as a party to some action, civil or criminal, you want the judge on your side. Some times the judge is simply the referee, other times the judge will decide your entire case. It is therefore vitally important to the success of your case that you do things that will encourage the judge to like you, and that you do NOT do things to make the judge dislike you.
I would think that this is simply stating the obvious, but based on personal observation, this thought is apparently quite elusive to some people. As a public service, therefore, I bring you: the DO’s and DONT’s of appearing in court.
DO: Dress Professionally. Ladies, a nice church or office outfit. Guys, this means a suit and tie. Or at a bare minimum a collared shirt. Funerals, weddings, job interviews and court. You gotta dress up. First impressions count. If you look like a productive member of society you are more likely to be believed and treated kindly.
DON’T: Dress Professionally (if your profession is prostitute, local drunk or rock musician). Seriously, folks. Torn T-shirts? Sweat pants? ORANGE? Good grief, just wear the Hamburglar outfit and be done with it. If you look like a redneck hillbilly, gang member, or just criminally insane, you’ll probably be treated that way.
DO: Be on Time. Heck, be early. It shows you take your case and the court’s time seriously.
DON’T: Be Late. Being late shows you are unreliable. This could damage your credibility. It could make your case take longer to resolve. It could mean you lose your case by default. It could mean getting locked up. It’s that serious. Get a baby sitter. Set two alarms. Gas up the car. Maybe, DON’T get wasted the night before. That’d be a good idea.
DO: Listen to and Follow Instructions. The court often gives instructions about how the day’s proceedings will be handled. You will hear them when you are on time (see above). Following the instructions of the court allows the court’s proceedings to be handled more efficiently, which often means your case can be resolved sooner.
DON’T: Make Up Your Own Rules. Despite what your mama may have told you, you’re not that special. Trying to operate outside the usual rules of court irritates judges and attorneys, whose lives are made miserable and days made longer by people that can’t or won’t follow the rules of court. Wanna guess what happens when a judge thinks you’ve wasted their time?
DO: Be Respectful. Remember what mama taught you. Don’t slouch. Speak up. Say “sir” and “ma’am” (and “your honor”). Don’t talk back. Wait your turn. Treating the court with respect has almost become uncommon, such that you might get a favor from the judge just for doing it.
DON’T: Be Disrespectful. So what if the judge is a jerk or the witness is a liar or the attorney is out to get you. Rant about it at home. In court, being disrespectful, flippant, rude, or even nonchalant just makes the judge like you less. The only point it proves is who has the real authority (Hint: It’s not you.) Another word for disrespect is contempt. The judge worked long and hard to get where they are. Contempt of court can land you in jail. At a minimum, it alienates you from the judge and the attorneys and doesn’t encourage anyone to give you any extra help. If you’re in court, no matter the reason, you need extra help.
DON’T: Wing it. It’s amazing how many people walk into court without a clue what to do in their case. They do all kinds of silly stuff like pleading not guilty on a speeding ticket with the officer in court without even once asking the DA for a reduction. They ask the judge or DA for advice (which they can’t ethically give). They fail to negotiate. They ask for things and make motions and objections they know nothing about. They don’t know what to bring to court. They don’t know what to ask or say. Sometimes, it works out okay. Other times it doesn’t. Either way, they don’t have enough expertise or experience to know if they got a good deal or not.
DO: Consult with an Attorney. There’s a reason you have to go to school for at least 3 years and pass a two day exam to be an attorney. This stuff can be complicated. No one expects you to know everything about court on your own. An attorney can tell you about the law related to your case, walk you through winning strategies, advise you about the likely outcome and advocate for you in court, if necessary. I can’t speak for all attorneys, but if I don’t think I can make a difference in your case, I won’t take your fee. You owe it to yourself to at least speak to an attorney and find out what they think about your case and what they might be able to do for you.