Going to court can seem intimidating if your most relevant experience is binge-watching legal dramas. Not only are you in a new place surrounded by serious professionals, but also the circumstances of your visit are weighty. Though court decisions are based on law and evidence, it never hurts to put your best foot forward. Showing up prepared will boost your reputation and make you look more credible to the judge and jury.
Don’t Save Your Preparation for the Last Minute
When involved in a court case, you may be required to prepare materials—forms, evidence, witnesses, and more—and bring them to your trial. The more time you leave yourself to gather all the information you need, the more complete your case will be. You’ll also get a confidence boost by knowing that you’re ready, which can help counteract courtroom jitters.
First Impressions Matter
Court, like all formal venues, has strict rules that attendees are expected to follow. Any blatant violation can make you look disrespectful and bias a judge and/or jury against you…without them consciously realizing it. If you have time, look over the official court procedure for your locale to pick up on some of the details and expectations.
Though rules vary by jurisdiction, here are ten points that apply to most every court in the U.S.:
- Arrive at least 15 minutes early
- Dress professionally, in clean and well-fitting clothing
- Groom yourself neatly—brush your hair and shave if necessary
- Use minimal hair product, makeup, cologne/perfume, jewelry, etc.
- Respect all other attendees and treat them courteously
- Make eye contact with the judge and jury when addressing them
- Stand up when speaking
- Always call the judge “your honor” and follow their directions
- Do not interrupt
- Turn off your cell phone
Don’t Say Things That Will Hurt Your Case
Choose your words carefully.
Sounds obvious, right? In theory, yes, but in practice we often resort to defensive techniques that don’t land well in a courtroom. This includes using an angry tone or swearing when things get emotional. While expletives are easy to identify as a no-no, other common speech patterns such as exaggeration or definitive statements are a bad idea when statements are taken at face value. If you contradict yourself during your testimony, even accidentally, you’ll lose the judge and jury’s trust. Avoid this trap by favoring accuracy over sweeping generalizations and by adding qualifiers such as “that’s all I remember” instead of stating “that’s all that happened.”
Rehearse, but not too much.
A judge will be able to tell if you’ve memorized your testimony, which may hurt your credibility. The more natural you sound on the stand—in speech patterns and language use—the more trustworthy you will be. Don’t try to throw in those terms you hear lawyers use (“aforementioned,” “whereas”) and keep a professional but easy tone.
Before your court date, practice answering questions with your lawyer, a friend, or even your mirror. Each statement should be as concise and accurate as possible. When speaking in front of a judge or jury, there’s no need to provide unasked information. If you say something that impugns your reputation or introduces an inconsistency, it will hurt your case.
Correct, and apologize for, mistakes.
We all misspeak sometimes, especially when under pressure on the stand. If you realize that you provided testimony that was incomplete or downright wrong, correct it as soon as possible without interrupting the proceedings. When doing so, plainly state the information you’d like to retract and offer its replacement without providing excuses. Apologize sincerely but not extravagantly for your mistake.
Guiding You Through the Vital Moments
Facing criminal charges can be frustrating, stressful, and even scary. At Andrew Farmer Law, we are dedicated to helping you with both the technical and emotional aspects of your defense. With the experience of one of our hardworking team members on your side, you’ll feel more ready to stand up for yourself in court.
Contact us online or call (865) 205-2637 for a free and confidential consultation, and don’t go it alone.