Essential Guide to Courtroom Etiquette for Visitors
You’ve got to go to court soon, but how do you act in such an unfamiliar situation? Just about everyone will enter a criminal courtroom at some point in their lives. Whether you’re a defendant, a potential juror, a civil litigation attorney, or a college student researching a class assignment, proper courtroom etiquette is required.
So, what is the proper courtroom etiquette for visitors? Some things to keep in mind include dressing appropriately, turning off your cell phone, leaving your snacks at home (or in the car), respecting the judge and other participants, and providing thoughtful answers.
No one wants to get thrown of out court, so it is paramount to know what to do or say you’re you are inside the chamber. Saying, doing, or wearing the wrong thing in court is a surefire way to get shown the door. There are even instances of people being thrown behind bars for contempt of court.
Tips for Proper Courtroom Etiquette
Here’s a look at basic courtroom etiquette rules and how to practice proper decorum.
Dress Appropriately for Court
Dress to impress. The first impression the judge gets of you is when you walk into his chambers/courtroom. Make sure that impression is a positive one. You should dress like you are going to a job interview at a nice company. Men, dress in a suit and tie. If you do not own one, opt for dress slacks and a collared shirt and tie. Women, wear a dress or dress/pants suit with sensible flats or heels. If you are going to court straight from work, take your court clothes with you to work. There are some strategic reasons to leave on your work clothes, (i.e. you are a police officer, fire rescuer, or in the military). Generally, however, you should change.
People entering a courtroom should be dressed in a manner that shows dignity and respect for the court. Save caps, cut-offs, T-shirts, spandex, low-cut blouses for another day. Try to keep your clothing tasteful and subdued. Excessive and expensive jewelry and clothing should be left at home.
Especially in certain cases (i.e. child support and alimony), this is not a very good idea no matter whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant. When you are the party asking for money, this may make the judge less sympathetic to your cause. Similarly, when you are the defendant, it may give the impression that you can pay money damages. Some courts have stricter dress codes than others, so do your research ahead of time.
You can find more tips on what to wear to a deposition or other legal proceeding here.
Keep Politics Out of the Courtroom
During election years, you may be tempted to show your support for a certain candidate or party. No overt advertising, campaign buttons, or campaign material are permitted in the courtroom. At least one federal circuit has held that judges have the authority to ban political buttons in the courtroom.
Snacking & Smoking is Forbidden
This is not the 1960s. These days, tobacco is forbidden in court. Food, drink, and gum, are strictly prohibited in most courtrooms. E-cigarettes should also be left at home. Do not chew gum in the courtroom or chambers. Even if you will not be testifying, no gum is allowed.
Leave the Kids at Home
The courtroom is not a place for kids. They can’t sit still for long periods of time and often speak when they shouldn’t. Many jurisdictions expressly forbid children in the courtroom and there is no daycare service.
Turn Off Your Cell Phones
Just about every courthouse in the country has signs prohibiting phones or warning visitors to turn their cell phones off. Despite these announcements, phones routinely go off in court and disrupt proceedings. Make sure your phone is turned all the way off before heading into the chamber.
Prepare Before You Arrive
You need to come prepared to the courtroom. Know what you are going to say. Practice saying it in front of a mirror. Even if you have an attorney, you need to practice your testimony. Know what will be asked of you and practice answering the questions.
Take a pad of paper and a pen. You should have a pad and pen with you so you can take notes and write down issues you will need to address when it is your turn to speak. You should do this even if you are accompanied by a Tulsa Tax Attorney. Even jurors should be prepared with a pad and pen.
Respect the Judge
Judges not only represent the ultimate authority of the court, but also the law. Standing when a judge enters the room or the bailiff calls “all rise” is intended to show respect for the legal system. Address the judge any time you are speaking. They are the person making decisions in your case.
Therefore, you should make your statements or present your testimony directly to the judge. Too often litigants address the other party or the attorney and not the judge.
Anytime you speak to the judge, it should always start with “Your Honor”. When the judge comes into the courtroom, stand up and wait for the judge to tell you to sit down. If the judge is going to leave the courtroom, stand again until the judge is gone.
Maintain a Serious Demeanor
The courtroom is a solemn and serious place and should be treated as such. If you are a spectator of a case, you are expected to show the same respect those on trial and the jurors are. No reading newspapers, propping feet on tables or chairs or napping. Respect for the dignity and authority of the court should be shown at all times.
It’s hard not to get emotional in a courtroom. Decisions and verdicts can be life-altering. Still, courtroom decorum requires all parties to refrain from gestures, facial expressions, or outbursts. Keep as calm as possible.
Show Respect to Other Participants
Show respect to everyone in the courtroom. The judge is aware that you are not overly fond of the other side, but respect is a must. Lack of respect is not tolerated. If you are in the middle of a personal injury claim, you likely resent the other side for causing your injuries.
Never interrupt the judge. The judge will listen to both sides. When the one side is presenting their case, listen and, unless you or your counsel has a proper objection to make, do not interrupt them. You can take notes to ensure that you remember to address your point when it is your turn.
Do not use negative body language. Do not roll your eyes, sigh, shake your head “no” over and over, cross your arms, etc. This is very disrespectful and the judge will not appreciate it. They may even tell you to stop. Also, do not put your elbows on the table. (Your mother was right about that one.)
Speak Slowly & Clearly
Speak clearly, slowly, and audibly. Judges often complain they cannot hear the witness, or cannot understand the witness. This goes for defendants and plaintiffs, as well. Don’t be shy. Most people speak faster when they are nervous. Be cognizant of this and make sure you are not speaking too rapidly. This is where practice helps.
Be sure to stay on topic. It is easy to get off topic when you are upset or nervous. Remember what issues are before the judge and stick to those issues. Again, preparation is key to help you stay on course. The same should be said when you are answering questions. Be short and concise with your answer.
Be Thoughtful in Your Answers
It’s okay to slow down and think about what you are saying. When you are being questioned, take a breath after the question is asked. This helps you to formulate the best answer you can. Similarly, do not guess. If you do not understand the question, ask that person to ask the question again.
Let the person know you do not understand the question. If you understand the question but do not know the answer, do not speculate. Say, “I do not know”. If you do not remember, say so
Do not feel intimidated. It is the other side’s job to put holes in your testimony and to get you to try to agree that their position is more accurate. The other side will likely try to twist your words or try to get you to change your mind. If you believe you are correct, do not get intimidated and change your position just because you are being pressured. Stand your ground.
Now you know proper courtroom etiquette. If you follow these rules, you should make a positive impression upon the judge, jurors, and even the other side. This goes a long way in the court of law. Run over this checklist the next time you are summoned to court to present the best version of yourself to the judge.
Find more legal terms and information here!