If this is your first court appearance, especially in a criminal case, you may be nervous about where to go, what to do, and how to behave in court. Here are some tips on how to impress the judge in court, and what you can do to help put on your strongest case.
Preparing for a court appearance should start as soon as you receive a notice of hearing. When that happens, you should contact your attorney right away to discuss what will happen at the specific hearing and what you need to do to prepare. A court appearance could be anything from a quick meeting between the lawyers and the judge (called pretrial hearings, settlement conferences, or status conferences) to a full formal trial. Be sure you take the time to discuss what has been scheduled with your defense attorney and what will be expected of you while you are at the courthouse.
A court hearing, especially in a criminal case, needs to be your number one priority. When you receive a notice of hearing, it is essentially a court order to appear in the courthouse at a certain date and time. Work meetings, trips out of town, and even doctors’ appointments should be rescheduled if possible when they conflict with the court’s schedule. (Remember, if you are a criminal defendant released on pre-trial bond, you may be legally prevented from leaving the state.) However, if you have a scheduling conflict that is not easily moved, you may be able to ask the court to reschedule your court hearing. Contact your criminal defense attorney as soon as you are aware of the conflict to see if this is an option.
The law says that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the rule of first impressions means that your appearance will affect the way the judge thinks as soon as you walk into the courtroom. Always dress appropriately and professionally when showing up to court. Pretend it is a job interview. Avoid jeans, shorts, and sandals. Cover any tattoos you have if you are able, and don’t wear a hat unless it is a religious head covering. Remember that the judge can see you before and after your case is heard, so always be respectful whenever you are in the courtroom, even during someone else’s case.
Whenever you go to court it is a good idea to bring the paperwork related to your case, especially your notice of hearing for the date in question. You may also want to have your copies of any complaints, indictments, motions, or other paperwork that have been filed in the case.
If you are appearing for your trial date, be sure that your attorney has all the physical and document evidence you plan to present ahead of time. You may need to bring your cell phone with you (turned off) if you will be using it to show text messages or photos. Your lawyer will give you more specific details about what to bring based on your specific circumstances.
Your notice of hearing will tell you which courthouse your hearing will be held in. Be sure to look at how you will get there and how long it will take ahead of time. Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to give yourself enough time to park and get through the metal detectors at the courthouse entrance. Check in with the court staff and your attorney, then have a seat in the courtroom and wait for your case to be ready. In many cases, your lawyer may need to speak to the prosecutor or other attorney before your case is called. Be patient and use your time to listen to other court cases to get a feel for what might happen when it is your turn.
2020 has brought a lot of changes to the Connecticut court system. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many court hearings are now held online through Connecticut’s “Remote Justice Virtual Courtroom.” You should treat these virtual hearings just like an in-person court attendance. To make sure your hearing goes as smoothly as possible:
In every court hearing the judge may ask you questions directly. Even if you are represented by a criminal defense attorney and don’t plan on testifying, the judge may ask you procedural or clarifying questions. Anytime you need to speak to the judge you should be as respectful as possible, referring to judges as “your Honor” or sir or ma’am. Answer the judge’s questions briefly and directly. Try to avoid long-winded explanations. If you feel more needs to be said, let your attorney know that in a whisper or by writing it on a piece of paper. Let your attorney speak for you and remain silent whenever possible.
When the hearing is over, you may feel emotional about the outcome. Be sure you are out of the judge’s earshot before expressing those emotions. Just outside the courtroom door may not be enough. However, don’t leave the courthouse until your attorney says it is time. You may need to wait for a new notice of hearing or court order, check in with the probation office, or pay costs or fines to the court clerk before leaving the building.
Each court appearance will always have a certain amount of stress involved, but you can avoid being nervous in front of the judge by taking the time to prepare for the hearing ahead of time. Talk to your attorney about when, where, and what will happen, so you don’t get caught unaware.
The Lebedevitch Law Firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, is ready and able to walk you through any criminal charges you may be facing. From your first court appearance to a full jury trial and sentencing, we will help you prepare to put on your best case in court. Contact us for a free consultation.