Dos and Don’ts of Going to Court

First impressions in the courtroom are often lasting, and can end up defining the overall outcome of a case. If you have never been in a courtroom before, you may be feeling nervous and unsure on how to act. If this is your case, know that there are ways you can demonstrate utmost respect just by following simple courtroom etiquette. Continue reading to know more about these guidelines.

The Courtroom

Courtrooms are generally a quiet, tense, and conservative environment. Generally, people are on their best behavior and following the protocols of the court. To avoid being seen in a negative light, there is basic court etiquette to follow.

What to Wear in Court

Dress codes for courts can sometimes differ depending on whether the court is in a small town vs. city, civil vs. criminal court, etc. However, there are general rules that are best practice to follow:

For men:

  • Wear tucked-in shirts with collars
  • If you wear a tie, make sure the pattern is plain
  • Avoid flashy “statement” colors if possible
  • Wear long pants at waist level, wear a belt if applicable
  • Wear shoes with socks

For women:

  • Wear non-distracting solid-color blouses or dress-shirts (alternatively, women can opt to wear blazers and cardigans as an outside layer)
  • Wear skirts that don't go above the knee level
  • Wear closed-shoes/dress shoes

Clothing to AVOID in court:

  • Hats (except for religious reasons)
  • Putting too many things in your pocket that would make it bulge
  • Crop tops and t-shirts, especially ones with offensive graphics or wording
  • Revealing clothing
  • Flip-flops
  • Excessive accessories and piercings
  • Wrinkled clothing

Courtroom Security

The following things are PROHIBITED inside most courtrooms:

  • Weapons and any sharp object
  • Flammable pressurized containers
  • Locks and handcuffs
  • Fireworks
  • Cameras and video tape recorders

As always, be sure to look at the courtroom you will be attending to ensure you are following any local rules the court might follow.

How to Behave in Court

While you might be able to get away with any behavior you want on the street, the courtroom has rules that almost guarantee being thrown out. Here is a guide for how to behave in court.

Things to DO:

  • Arrive on time for all meetings in the court. Tardiness is considered disrespectful to the judge. If it is impossible for you to be on time, call in advance that you will be late.
  • Act professionally and be polite to every person inside the courthouse, even to the opposing party. Be especially polite to any administrative staff of the court, as they often have a direct ear to the judge.
  • Balance your emotions. Always be mindful of your facial expressions and your body language. Be careful not to let your feelings get the best of you.

Things NOT to do

  • Be disruptive. Never interrupt a judge, witnesses, or the opposing party. There is an appointed time for counter arguments so exercise restraint and follow procedure.
  • Be noisy. In court it is considered disrespectful to talk in a loud voice or laugh out of place. What happens in a courtroom is recorded so it is important to respect the general sound level of the courtroom.
  • Be rude. Do not make offensive gestures like rolling your eyes, raising your middle finger, cursing, or screaming.
  • Eat and drink inside the courtroom. Food and drinks are prohibited so it is best to eat your fill before entering the courtroom. Do not chew gum.
  • Ask questions to anyone you want. Direct your questions to your lawyer only. Directing questions to others in the courtroom or to the judge out-of-turn could lead to your case being compromised.
  • Disobey the court staff. As the enforcement of the rules of the court, you will be asked to leave if you do not follow decorum and behavior warnings.

How to Address the Judge

The judge is the one to decide your fate. It is critical to hold them in the highest regard when in court. Here are some protocols on how to act in front of the judge.

  • In court, you must address the judge as “Your Honor”.
  • Stand when the judge enters the room.
  • Always speak in a polite manner in front of the judge.
  • When answering questions, always add honorifics. For example, “Yes, your honor,” “No, your honor”.
  • Do not approach the judge outside of the courtroom.

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