Going to court is stressful and most people are not familiar with the process. It’s important to have some information on what to expect and how to behave.
1. Get enough rest.
Court is stressful and nerve wrecking, but showing up hung over or high is not a solution. If you didn’t get enough sleep because of nerves, drink some coffee because you do not want to fall asleep in court. And eat a good breakfast, because you can’t eat in court.
2. Dress appropriately.
Dress as if you are going to a church or your grandma’s house. If you don’t go to church or your Grandma’s house, dress for a job interview or important meeting. If you don’t have nice clothes, make sure what you choose to wear is neat and clean. Do not wear shorts, tank tops, hats, sunglasses, or sandals. Cover up any tattoos and take out visible piercings.
3. Be on time.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get to court in traffic and find parking. If you don’t know where you’re going, leave early.
What to do if you’re late to court:
It’s better to show up late to court than not show up at all. If you don’t show up to your court date, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. It’s much better to come in late. Unless you’ve been late before and the judge warned you, you will most likely not be put in jail for being late. The judge might give you a lecture on the importance of being on time, but no bench warrant will be issued and you won’t go to jail. Be respectful and apologetic about your tardiness.
4. What to bring
Bring a few supportive family members with you, but not your homies. The judge will see who is in the audience and you want people that help you feel better, and reflect well on you in front of the court.
Bring all relevant paperwork and documents. The court likes to see documented evidence that can support your story. If the court asked you to do something the last time you were in court, bring proof that you completed it or at least attempted to complete it. If you couldn’t complete it, bring proof of your excuse.
For example, if you couldn’t do the community service because of a medical condition, bring a doctor’s note or a prescription. More is always better. Also, make copies of everything you give the court for your own records and your attorney’s file.
Bring paper and something to write with. You don’t need to take notes, but if the court gives you another date to appear or something to complete, you’ll want to write it down.
Bring a valid form of identification.
Don’t bring you cell phone, or at the very least turn it off when you’re in court.
5. You can take bathroom breaks.
It’s okay to use the restroom while you’re waiting for your case to be called. You don’t have to sit there and be miserable, but let the bailiff know you’re stepping outside.
6. Be expressionless.
Don’t make any gestures or noises of dissatisfaction. Don’t roll your eyes or make faces. The judge might make a ruling that you don’t like, but contain your reactions.
7. Be respectful.
Say please and thank you and address the judge as your honor. Being polite will go a long way with the judge and the court staff. The clerk and bailiff all play a role in the results you get. Also, always answer with “yes” and “no” – don’t just nod or shake your head.
8. Nothing happens quickly in court, relax.
Try not to stress out too much or get too worried. No decisions are made quickly. Most likely, you won’t be facing jail time if this is your first appearance on the case and it is a misdemeanor or traffic infraction, and it’s your first offense. But if this is a second or later appearance, and you’ve violated a court order or picked up another case, you might want to worry.
9. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you can ask someone.
If you don’t understand something that was said, you can and should say that out loud. Your attorney, the judge and even the bailiff can help you. The court will stop and make sure you understand before going on. If English is not your first language, ask for an interpreter. Interpreters are available in the court for all felony and misdemeanor cases, and sometimes for infractions in traffic court.
10. You don’t have to make a decision that day.
If the court asks you a question or gives you a decision to make, don’t rush yourself. You can ask for an extension to another day, later that day, or even just a few minutes to talk to your attorney. It’s important to make well-informed decisions in court, as these decisions will often have long-term consequences. If you make a decision and are sentenced that day, ask for a copy of the sentencing sheet because it will have all of the fines and fees you’re obligated to pay and any community service or other programs you might need to complete.
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DISCLAIMER: Your case is specific to the set of facts and circumstances involved. You should seek the advice of a licensed attorney regarding your specific case. This is not meant to serve as legal advice. These are general guidelines based on our practice and experience.