What is Proper Courtroom Etiquette?
By Jonathan Blecher on December 21, 2016
If you were recently arrested for a crime in Miami, you will have to go to court for a series of court appearances. Like many places, there is a proper way and an improper way to act while you’re in court – this is called “proper courtroom etiquette.”
While I’m no Emily Post or etiquette expert, I am an expert when it comes to proper courtroom etiquette. In virtually every culture, there are rules on how to dress and behave in different situations and places, and the courtroom is no exception.
For example, when you go to church, you’re not supposed to wear shorts, sandals and a T-shirt. Instead, you’re supposed to wear nice clothes, which usually means a suit for men and a dress or a skirt and a blouse for women.
When you go to the library, you can dress casually if you want, but you’re expected to be quiet and only whisper when you speak. When you go to a funeral, you’re supposed to be quiet, reserved, and you’re supposed to wear nice black clothing out of respect for the deceased – that’s the tradition.
Why is courtroom etiquette so important?
Every time I represent a client, I talk to him or her about proper courtroom etiquette and why it’s important. In other words, I prepare my clients for court so they can make the best impression possible on the judge and prosecutor.
When you go to court, you want to make a good impression because it can set the tone for the entire case.
If you show up to court with your three-year-old in tow, or if you wear baggy jeans and a tank top to court, or if you rudely talk over the judge, it’s not going to help your case one bit and it’s going to make your criminal defense attorney’s job that much harder.
My top tips for proper courtroom etiquette:
- Please find a babysitter for your kids; they’re not allowed in the courtroom.
- Arrive to court early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to court if you encounter any traffic or road construction.
- Dress in your “Sunday Best,” which means dress as if you’re going to church or applying for an accounting job. For women, don’t wear anything revealing.
- If you need one, get a haircut. Make sure your hair looks nice.
- Do not chew gum in the courtroom.
- Shut off your cellphone before you enter the courtroom.
- Stand whenever the judge enters or leaves the room.
- Always address the judge as, “Your Honor.”
- If you’re asked a question, always end with a “yes sir” or “yes ma’am.”
- If you have a question, address the bench, not the prosecutor.
- NEVER talk over the judge.
- If the judge interrupts you for any reason, STOP talking and let the judge speak.
- Do not use foul language.
- Do not laugh, smirk, raise your voice, or act disrespectful in any way.
- Be polite to the judge, the prosecutor, your attorney, and the courtroom staff at all times.
Since 1982, I have been defending individuals against criminal charges in Florida and before that, I was a prosecutor. So, for nearly 40 years I have been defending Floridians in criminal court.
Over the course of my career, I have seen and heard it all when it comes to “improper courtroom etiquette” and I can tell you that a nice outfit, a fresh haircut, and a respectful attitude can go a long way.
In contrast, a pair of shorts or baggy jeans and sandals, a cellphone that goes off while you’re standing before the judge, and rude and belligerent behavior can all leave a lasting, bad impression on the judge and the prosecutor.
If the judge feels that you’re disrespecting his or her courtroom, they will not be inclined to be lenient with you, and that’s the opposite of what you want to achieve during your court appearances. My sincere hope is that whenever you have to go to court, you will heed my advice and the odds will be in your favor.