Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers want our clients to understand that anytime you enter a courtroom – no matter if it’s state or federal, civil or criminal – there is a certain etiquette that must be observed.
It’s understandable that many people aren’t familiar with this etiquette, as most people don’t spend every day in a courtroom. But failing to follow these basic guidelines can reflect poorly upon you and your defense, and in some cases, might even result in additional criminal sanctions for contempt of court.
That was the case in U.S. v. Peoples, decided last month in by the South Carolina District Court. This was an individual who had brought multiple civil claims before the court. On the day of jury selection, he showed up late to court. The judge warned him not to allow it to happen again.
But it did, on the first day of trial. The judge warned that if he was late again, she would dismiss his case with prejudice. That trial concluded without further issue.
Then the second trial began. The plaintiff was again late on the first day. The judge called him into her chambers, where he explained he was stranded on the interstate with a flat tire. The judge confirmed his version of events with roadside assistance personnel, who stated the vehicle was not drivable. From then on, she directed a court marshal to transport him to court in the morning.
This may have been the end of it, but then throughout the course of the second trial, it’s alleged that the plaintiff became “disruptive and disrespectful.” He was cautioned that he would be found in contempt if he continued.
Then the third trial began. On the first day, he was again late to court. When the judge scolded him, he reportedly muttered something disrespectful. Then the next day, he was 15 minutes late again. As a result, the judge dismissed his case. He responded by muttering an expletive at the judge. He then left the courtroom, only to return and begin swearing at the court reporter, making negative statement about the judge.
A court security guard escorted him out. The next day, the judge ordered a hearing for the man to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt. He was more than an hour late for that hearing.
Two trials were held for two criminal contempt charges. He was sentenced to four months and then 30 days, respectively.
Upon appeal, the appellate court affirmed the first conviction and reversed the second on a technicality. However, the case is an example of how improper courtroom conduct can impact a case.
In addition to ensuring you are on time and at all times refrain from using profane language, here are some other courtroom etiquette tips:
1. Dress appropriately. Don’t show up in jeans, mini skirts, tennis shoes, saggy pants, spandex or belly shirts. If you don’t own a suit or other dress clothes, wear plain jeans with a button up, collared shirt and close-toed shoes. Dress as if you were going for a job interview or attending church.
2. Toss your candy or gum. The judge will see it as a sign of disrespect, and may even ask you to throw it away.
3. Turn off your cell phone. If you must have it on in case of emergency, make sure it is on vibrate.
4. Come prepared. Have all of your paperwork with you, and perhaps an extra copy just in case the prosecutor or judge needs another copy. Have these documents organized in a neat folder or binder. Your criminal defense lawyer can instruct you what, if any, paperwork you need to have prior to coming to court.
6. Be respectful. This includes to the judge, to court officers, to the lawyers and to others in the courtroom. It’s certainly understandable that you are going through a wide range of emotions and you are under a great deal of stress. But punching doorways or kicking benches or cursing is likely to land you in contempt of court.
7. When you are speaking to the judge, be sure to use either the term, “Your Honor” or the judge’s last name. Do not attempt to argue with the judge. Similarly, when addressing the prosecutor, it’s considered respectful to use the terms “sir” or “ma’am.” In many cases, you may not need to address the judge at all. Having a skilled attorney means we do most of the talking for you and can instruct you on when it’s appropriate – or not appropriate – to speak.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
United States v. Peoples, U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Decided Oct. 23, 2012
More Blog Entries:
U.S. v. Owen – Guilty Verdict Reversed On Appeal, Oct. 19, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog