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What should I do for my first court appearance in a criminal case?

Posted by Wais Azami | Dec 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

How should I prepare for my arraignment or first court appearance?

A good lawyer will speak to you well in advance of your first court appearance.  This is true whether it's a criminal case, family case, or a civil case.  He/She will (should) advise you of all of the items below.  In case you don't have a lawyer or your lawyer hasn't given you the time to help you in this department, please read the following guidelines on how to make your court appearance as easy and comfortable as possible without "looking bad" or "messing up."  

While the outcome of your case is not dependent on your actions, dress code or attitude, doing the right things can afford you the benefit of doubt sometimes.  Occasionally, you may also be given a more favorable resolution because it seems as though you are a worthy person and will benefit greatly from any kind gesture by the court.   Give the court a chance to help you whenever possible.  Don't give them an excuse to not give you the benefit of doubt.  A little bit of effort could have huge results for you. 

The following are answers to common questions regarding a court appearance:

How should I dress for court for my arraignment?  Do I need to wear a suit for a trial?

  • No, you don't need to go out and buy a new suit, a new dress or a new outfit.
  • Yes, it's better to wear the nicest clothes you already have.  A suit, clean shirt and a tie are always the best bet. 
  • When choosing your clothes, it's better to choose what someone would wear in a church rather than a nightclub or a bar.
  • Your clothes should be clean, pressed and presentable, not necessarily new or expensive--just show that you cared enough and respect the court enough to have made an effort.  This would tell the court that you care about the outcome of your case and might show you as more credible too.  Judges can't be fooled, but they are human and all humans want to help those who want to help themselves.  Let's show them that you care about yourself.  

What should I not wear to court?

  • Sandals or flip-flops
  • Shorts
  • Tank-tops
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses, unless they are for medical necessity and you can prove it
  • Avoid excessive jewelry 
  • Avoid excessive cologne or perfume
  • Avoid clothes which could draw a lot of attention to you, especially unwanted attention.

Should I change my hairstyle or get a haircut for court?

  • Men, if you can afford a haircut to look presentable, it's always good to look like you care about yourself.  You'll also feel more confident.  
  • If you can't get a haircut, a simple shower and comb can go very far in looking presentable.  
  • No ladies, you don't need to have your hair and nails done!  There is no need to incur such expenses for a few minutes of court time.  However, make sure it doesn't look like you were up all night, didn't shower and didn't care.  A simple cleaning goes very far! 

How should I act in court?

  • Don't chew gum, eat or drink inside the courtroom.  
  • Don't show up intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Don't use your cellphone inside the courtroom.
  • Don't make eye-contact or communicate with any inmates, even if you know them.
  • Don't call attention to yourself, regardless of how uncomfortable or stressed you maybe.  
  • Don't speak loudly, tap your feet or hum.  
  • Don't roll your eyes at anyone, but especially at the judge or commissioner. 
  • Don't talk back to anyone in court, especially to the judge or commissioner. 
  • Don't be rude in court.
  • Don't use profanity in court. 
  • Don't talk over the judge. Don't interrupt the judge when he/she is talking. 
  • Don't speak until spoken to or asked a question by the judge.
  • ALWAYS listen to your attorney and follow their instructions! You paid them good money.  They are protecting you from the accusations, but they are also protecting you from yourself so that you won't harm your case by saying or doing the wrong things.  Don't waste your money! 
  • Don't intimidate, harass, bother or threaten ANYONE!  Not only will your case suffer, but you will likely incur additional criminal charges

What should I not say in court?

  • Do not lie.  You don't have to say anything, but you can't lie either.  Allow an attorney to speak for you! 
  • Do not be too casual in your language or it could seem you're showing an "attitude" to the judge.  For example, say Yes instead of "yeah", or No instead of "nah man."  The better response is "Yes, your honor," "I understand and agree, your honor," or "No, your honor." 
  • Don't use foul language, EVER!
  • Don't admit any guilt or speak with the district attorney until you've had a chance first to speak to a defense attorney about your rights. 
  • Try not to speak to anyone sitting next to you--speak only to the bailiff to check-in or your attorney.  
  • Don't discuss your case with ANYONE, except your attorney.  

What should I say in court?

  • Allow your attorney to speak for you or ask for an attorney if you can't afford one.  Lawyers are your mouthpiece but with a better filter. 
  • If you don't have an attorney, ask the judge to give you time to find one or ask the judge for a public defender, if you can't afford an attorney.
  • Use formal and polite language whenever you say anything or to anyone--the person sitting next to you could be somehow involved in your case. 
  • Preferably, don't say anything to anyone until they have spoken to you (judge or bailiff).  Avoid chatting with others in court.  

Will my lawyer tell me what to do in court?

A good criminal defense attorney will prepare you! I always communicate with my clients ahead of time during my consultation, during my reminder calls and just before the court appearance in the hallway. I always prepare my clients on what to say, what not to say, how to act, how to dress, and how things will proceed in court so there are no surprises.  

The information in my blog is for purely academic purposes and NOT to be taken as legal advice.  Please contact my office at (714) 321-9999 to discuss your specific questions for legal advice.  https://azamilaw.com 

About the Author

Wais Azami

Orange County Criminal Law Attorney Blue-collar fight with a white-collar style. As a local criminal defense attorney in Garden Grove, I offer strong yet affordable representation to the people of Orange County, LA County, Inland Empire and the surrounding areas. Most of my clients have famil...

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