No matter what your role in a courtroom, whether it is as a defendant, a witness, or part of the prosecution, it can be intimidating to be a part of a court procedure. Knowing the proper behavior and what to expect can help lessen anxiety and guide you in your actions and etiquette.
In order to prepare you for a courtroom appearance, let’s review some of the social rules that should be followed.
Courthouses are busy places that rely on following a strict calendar. Be aware of the timing of your arrival as many court buildings involve entering through security. This process can take time so arrive early to get through the security line and find your lawyer/courtroom.
Being prompt to your court case shows the court and the judge respect and keeps the process running smoothly. It does not bode well for people who arrive late to their own trial or court date.
A good tip is to arrive early to find where your case is being held. This will also give you a chance to meet with your legal counsel prior to the start of the hearing.
Cell Phone Use
Many people are accustomed to having their mobile devices in hand at all times and ready to answer texts, calls, or notifications at a moment’s notice. A courtroom is not the place for this. Shut off your cell phone and place it in a pocket or bag where it will not distract you from the proceedings.
Generally, there will be signs about shutting off phones and electronic devices at the entrance of the courtrooms. A bailiff often reminds court attendees to silence their phones prior to the judge entering the room. Be sure to have this done so an annoying alert does not disturb the court case.
While there is no official dress code in most federal and municipal buildings, anyone attending a court hearing should dress properly to give a good impression and show the court your level of seriousness. Courtrooms are considered professional spaces and should be treated as such.
Avoid clothing that includes tank tops, shorts, hats, sunglasses, or anything that endorses risky behavior such as a t-shirt marketing alcohol or drugs.
Most courtrooms endorse business casual attire. Some judges are strict and do not allow jeans while others are looser on the dress code. Therefore, talk to your lawyer about what would be appropriate to wear to your court hearing.
Food & Drinks
New Englanders love their morning coffee but all food and drink items should be disposed of prior to entering the courtroom. This may or may not include bottled water so check with your specific courthouse to see if water is allowed.
In addition to prohibiting food and drinks, most courtrooms also ban gum, chewing tobacco, vaping, and cigarettes. It is best to leave all of these items at home.
A hearing in front of a judge or jury can be emotional and stressful. Prior to entering the room, settle your mind so that no emotional outbursts distract from the case. Yelling, swearing, and emotional outbursts could result in being removed from the room and the case entirely.
Addressing the Judge
There are several etiquette rules to follow while in a courtroom and addressing the judge.
- Always stand when the judge enters the room or leaves the room.
- When asked a question by the judge, respond and use the terminology “Your Honor.”
- Stand when a judge addresses you.
- Be courteous and answer questions to the best of your ability.
Following these rules of etiquette will allow the judicial process to run smoothly and will give the court a chance to hear all sides of the case.