Thursday, October 25, 2012

Appearing in Court: Appropriate Dress and Decorum

Whether you are a party to a case or a witness, appearing in court is a formal and serious matter. Accordingly, the importance of the affair should be reflected in both your attire and behavior while inside the courtroom. The following recommendations establish some general guidelines for how to present and conduct yourself in court.

Appropriate Courtroom Attire

Above all else, make sure you appear in court looking clean and well-groomed. You should be freshly bathed and have clean hair, clean nails, and clean clothing. Remove excessive or gaudy jewelry. Facial piercings and other accessories such as large ear plugs are distracting and should be removed. If you have a tongue piercing, remove it prior to entering the courtroom so that you will be easier to understand while speaking.

When dressing for court, think conservatively. Women should avoid low-cut tops or outfits that fit too snuggly. Appropriate apparel for women includes slacks and a blouse or blazer, a skirt, or a dress. For footwear, choose reasonable heels. Low-heeled, closed-toe shoes are more suitable for court than flashy platform pumps. Do not wear flip flops.

For men, slacks and a collared shirt are appropriate selections for the courtroom. Avoid wearing T-shirts, especially those with graphics, phrases, or statements printed on the front or back. Even in the summer, avoid wearing shorts. Do not wear a hat to your court appearance.

Appropriate Courtroom Conduct 

Be on time. This often means making sure you leave yourself enough time to find parking and navigate the courthouse. Do not bring your cell phone into the courtroom with you. If you do, turn it completely off.

While in court, speak and respond only when asked. When answering a judge’s question, try to limit your reply to ten words or less and avoid lengthy monologues. Be careful not to act too casually, such as leaning on the judge’s bench. Do not try to kid around with the judge or crack jokes, especially those which might be found distasteful. Keep your movements to a minimum and avoid distracting gestures.

Most importantly, be polite and respectful at all times. While tensions often run high, do not raise your voice or use coarse language. When someone else is speaking, listen politely. Do not react by sighing, laughing, snorting, rolling your eyes, or shaking your head. These types of responses are disrespectful to both the person speaking and to the court. Finally, remember to be courteous to everyone you encounter while in the courthouse and courtroom, including judges, attorneys, other parties, clerks, and bailiffs.

Contributions by Jeanne Foster, Attorney and Kelly Thompson, Law Clerk

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