When you have to appear in court, particularly in defending your DUI related case, there are definitely some “tricks of the trade” to increase your chances of success. Appearing in an unusual environment for the first time can be downright frightening—particularly when you aren’t familiar with the rules and behaviors that are expected. Most lawyers will discuss these in detail with their clients, but if your lawyer has neglected to do so, or you have decided to represent yourself, allow me to review some ways to show respect in the courtroom and increase your chances of success. Keep in mind that the more the judge or jury relates to you, the more respect you will receive.
- Dress Appropriately. Even if you disagree with the officer, the law or the judge, show respect to the system of justice by appearing clean, neat, and appropriately dressed for court. This means that you should not appear in court dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. If you are required to appear in court in your work uniform, that is more understandable, but generally speaking, one should appear in court dressed for a high-powered business meeting or job interview.
- Courtroom Etiquette. Before entering the courtroom, use the restroom and turn off your phone. Leave your socializing, beverages and reading material outside. The court will provide appropriate breaks for you to leave the courtroom, but once the proceedings have started, the judge will want you to focus on what is being said. This could take a while. If you must leave the courtroom while court is in session, try to alert a bailiff (they will all be dressed alike and usually wearing a badge) to let them know that you need to momentarily step outside. They should write your name down in the event your case is called by the judge in your absence. Don’t forget to let the bailiff know once you have returned. While in the courtroom, do not attempt to communicate with any of the prisoners. This is a security violation. It is not only disruptive to the judge, but could also cause a lot of trouble for the prisoner.
- Be Polite. Judges and the courtroom personnel expect to be treated with respect. Regardless of whether the judge is male or female, the judge should be addressed using the term “your honor.” When addressing the court, it is best to refrain from using slang terminology or taking out your frustrations on those in the courtroom. “Please” and “thank you” will go a long way in accomplishing your goals.
- Hire a Lawyer. The quote, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client,” has been attributed by some to Abraham Lincoln. Regardless of who first made this observation, it is one which bears significant truth. Court procedures, legal terminology, rules of evidence, and the law in general can be extremely complex. DUI cases carry stiff penalties as well as other severe consequences that will remain with you forever. This is why lawyers specialize or at least limit their practice to only a few areas of law. While you may not be able to afford the best specialist, it is generally helpful to obtain the advice of a licensed lawyer to guide you through the minefields that await you in the courtroom. Moreover, in criminal cases, a lawyer may be appointed to represent you if you cannot afford a lawyer and you otherwise qualify.
Abiding by these guidelines will likely make your courtroom experience more pleasant and help you achieve your goals.
About the Author: Steven Oberman has been licensed in Tennessee since 1980, and successfully defended over 2,500 DUI defendants. Steve was the first lawyer in Tennessee to be Board Certified as a DUI Defense Specialist by the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. (NCDD). Among the many honors bestowed upon him, Steve has served as Dean of the NCDD and currently serves as chair of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers DUI Committee.
He is the author of DUI: The Crime & Consequences in Tennessee, updated annually since 1991 (Thomson-West), and co-author with Lawrence Taylor of the national treatise, Drunk Driving Defense, 9th edition (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen). Steve has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee Law School since 1993 and has received a number of prestigious awards for his faculty contributions. He is a popular international speaker, having spoken at legal seminars in 30 states, the District of Columbia and six foreign countries. After being named a Fulbright Scholar, Steve was honored to teach as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Latvia Law School in the capital city of Riga, Latvia during the Spring Semester of 2019. If you would like to contact the author, please visit his website at www.tndui.com.