Whether it’s your first court appearance or you’ve been to court before, there are several things you can do to help ensure that your respect for the court comes through during this important and potentially life-changing day.
How you appear in court affects the judge’s perception of you. Show him or her that you have respect for the seriousness of the proceedings by:
- Eating a light breakfast. Nervousness is to be expected when you are appearing in court but there is no reason to deal with a growling stomach, too. Be careful not to have too much caffeine as you do not want to seem agitated.
- Arriving early. It can be maddening to leave home early for your day in court, only to circle the block looking for parking or end up walking a long distance to the courthouse. Instead, drive by the courthouse a week before your court date to scout out multiple parking locations in case lots are full when you arrive. Being there ahead of schedule also leaves time to discuss any last-minute details or questions you have with your attorney.
- Dressing professionally. The courtroom is not the place for casual wear. Male defendants should wear a suit or dress slacks and a button-down shirt. Female defendants can dress conservatively as well, either a modest dress, or a skirt/pant suit. Some courts have written dress codes, which are often posted on their websites. It’s a good idea to check the website of the court where you will be appearing to see what’s expected. Your attorney can also answer any questions you may have about preferred attire.
- Waiting quietly. If you are not immediately called, confer with your attorney and review your legal documents. Get answers to any last-minute questions that you have.
- Abiding by courtroom etiquette. There are few places where personal behavior is as tightly dictated as the courtroom. For that reason, some Georgia courts have posted on their websites, written statements outlining the behavior they expect to see in their courtrooms. If the court where you will be appearing has such a policy, you need to follow it closely.
- Turning your phone off. Most courtrooms maintain a ban on cell phones, and signs will alert defendants to the fact that cell phones are not welcome. You should not only silence your phone but turn off the vibration as well. Keep all of your attention focused on the legal proceedings.
- Following the judge’s directives. Obey all instructions from the judge promptly.
- Speaking in court. Address the judge as “Your Honor.” Speak only if you are spoken to. After you are called on, rise to your feet, speak loudly and clearly so that you can be heard throughout the courtroom. If you are called to the witness stand, take time to gather yourself before answering each question from opposing counsel.
- Making the most of a recess. Often, courts will go into recess during the official proceedings. Recesses occur to give everyone a break for lunch or for other matters. The judge will always state how long the recess will last. It is critical that you be back in the courtroom when the court resumes. Take this break as a time to have a snack or visit the restroom. Do not leave the courthouse.
- Preparing for an immediate verdict. In many cases, a verdict will be handed down the same day. It is important that you have prepared yourself for whatever the decision may be.
While no amount of preparation will completely eliminate the jitters that come with a court appearance, advance preparation can help defendants put their best foot forward on this important day. In addition, your advance work will show the court that you take your situation seriously.