We’re the generation that grew up watching legal dramas like LA Law, Ally McBeal, and The Practice. These shows depict the courtroom as a theater for crazy antics filled with surprise witnesses and last-minute acquittals by clever models/lawyers saving the day with their impassioned soliloquies. Sometimes they are legally blonde; other times they have just have the power of angst and character development on their side. However, the reality is that there are certain expectations of behavior you and your attorney are expected to follow and procedures to which you must adhere. Getting too casual sends a message you do not want the judge to receive.
Take the case of Young Thug, who allegedly “conducted a hand-to-hand drug deal inside the courtroom while jury selection was happening.” Or the story of a man in the UK who fell asleep during his drunk driving hearing because, and I am not making this up, drunk and on drugs during the hearing. Or maybe you’ve been following the ”robot lawyer” story, where allegedly the CEO of DoNotPay “convinced a man to wear headphones during a court case and recite the output of an AI chatbot in a court hearing scheduled to take place over Zoom.” Note: just because it’s “Zoom” court doesn’t make it fake or less formal. You may be able to hide not wearing pants, but you really shouldn’t try, you know? Or maybe you remember this story from 2013: NFL player Chad Johnson was sentenced for a violating parole stemming from his 2012 domestic violence conviction. After receiving a generous, jail-free sentence, Mr. Johnson showed his lack of maturity by unadvisedly patting his attorney on the backside and got a rude awakening: 30 days in the slammer.
If you have an upcoming court appearance or hearing, be sure to remember the following seven things you should never do in court:
- Ignore Court Orders or Fail to Appear: You get the “Notice to Appear” in your mailbox and you throw it in a pile of papers where it’s never to be seen again. In a criminal case, not appearing could result in a warrant for your arrest. In a civil case, a default judgment can be ordered against you. Extra Tip: If you have a scheduling conflict, ask for a continuance.
- Be Late: Courts are understaffed and calendars full, so keeping the court waiting is not a good idea. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to allow for traffic and parking and then get a cup of coffee while you and your attorney go over your case and prepare. Extra Tip: Wasting the court’s time makes for a bad start.
- Dress Provocatively/Inappropriately: You wouldn’t wear torn jeans and a tube top to a funeral, so why would you wear them to court? Your appearance sends a non-verbal message that you are to be either taken seriously or out with the trash. Dressing in a sexy, low-cut top or wearing dirty and inappropriate clothing gives the wrong impression from the get-go. Extra Tip: You may be a Harvard graduate, but if you’re dressed like a careless schlub you can expect to be treated like one. And your graphic tee’s playful irony will NOT go over well.
- Use Profanity: This is a no-brainer, unless you’re a No-Brainer. If you have trouble controlling yourself, don’t speak unless absolutely necessary, and ask your attorney to do most of the talking. No matter how unfair the other side is being or how upset you are, cursing at anyone will only end poorly for you. Extra Tip: Take a deep breath and count to 10 before you open your mouth and put your foot in
- Yell/Interrupt: NEVER yell or shout at the judge (it’s called Contempt of Court and could result in jail time). Be respectful and wait until the judge finishes talking before you speak. Address the judge as, “Your Honor,” not, “Hey, you,” and answer questions with, “Yes, Your Honor,” or, “No, Your Honor,” and not, “yeah,” or “uh-uh.” Extra tip: Less is more.
- Be Drunk/Under the Influence: Do neither.
- Behave Childishly/Aggressively: The judge hates hearing you pop your gum, see you watching TikToks on your phone, or responding in sarcastic, teenager-esque tones. As the kids say, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Extra Tip: If you don’t show the proper interest in your own case, why should they?
Look, pride is a h*ll of a thing, especially when you feel you’re being treated unfairly and run the risk of facing some hefty legal consequences. You want to stick up for yourself, prove you’re not afraid of anything, refuse to bow to authority. I get it, but it is NOT worth it. If you have to appear in court, whatever the reason, leave your pride at the door. Even we attorneys can’t let our attitudes and ego get the best of us, and that’s like 90% of who we are. How we act in court can affect your case just as much as your own behavior, so let’s just both agree to be cool.
And for goodness’ sake, remember you’re not free from courtroom etiquette after a verdict is read if you’re still IN THE COURTROOM, CHAD.
Can I avoid going to traffic court?
Court is intimidating, expensive, and usually means you’re in deep trouble in one way or another, so naturally, people like to avoid it. It’s weird calling a person “Your Honor,” right? And you know you’re innocent, and maybe you’re injured or tired, and they should really cut you some slack.
Yeah, bad news, pal: you’re probably going to court. If you just have a speeding ticket or another minor offense, you don’t HAVE to unless you want to contest the charge, but considering tickets and fines can be incredibly expensive — you should definitely consider contesting the charge (with an ATTORNEY; you are not Elle Woods). For other, more major driving offenses, going to court isn’t optional at all since you could face imprisonment. Those crimes include:
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Fleeing the cops
- Driving with a suspended/expired license
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Killing or seriously injuring someone with negligent driving
For those offenses, you DO technically avoid traffic court — because you go to criminal court instead. It’s not better. Either way, though, you’ll want to schedule an MVA hearing to defend your driving privileges, and you don’t want to do any of this at all without legal representation who thoroughly understands how it works. Trying to weasel your way out of a court appearance can only hurt your case, regardless of what it is. Just bite the bullet. Hire the Drew.
Annapolis court behavior really matters
It’s not a matter of the judge’s opinion of you dictating your innocence or guilt, but it would be a lie to say it doesn’t factor in. Chad Johnson getting 30 days in jail is pretty mild, frankly. The way you present yourself in court — especially as the defendant — tells everyone in the room how to treat you, whether you agree with that or not. If you’re trying to contest a charge but you fail to appear when your name is called, your case could just be dismissed. If you fail to appear in criminal court, you’ll just get a warrant for your arrest. If you’re rude and disrespectful, well, it’s not a leap for jurors to think of you as careless or negligent.
When you appear in court, whether it is for a traffic ticket or a more serious offense, make sure to put your best foot forward by comporting yourself respectively and with the proper reverence for the situation. How you behave may not ultimately affect the final outcome of your case, but poor behavior has never helped anyone in the history of law. In other words, save your high-fives or rear-end slapping for the courthouse hallway instead.
If you’re facing any sort of traffic or criminal charges in Annapolis or Ellicott City, trust Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law to represent you in court and guide you through the process. Not only will I make sure you’re treated fairly and with dignity, but I might even let you curse in private. Call today or use my contact form to get started, because running never works.
Just remember — Keep Calm, and Call Drew!