It’s inevitable that someday, you will need to go to court. Whether you are suing someone, being sued, been arrested, petitioning for child support, fighting a traffic ticket or any other court related issue, there are a few basic rules that you should keep in mind. This is certainly not an exhaustive list on the "Do's" and "Don'ts" of courthouse etiquette, but it should get you through some of the more important situations you may encounter on your voyage through the legal system.
1) DRESS APPROPRIATELY.
There is nothing stopping you from entering the courthouse in jeans and a t-shirt, but dressing in pants with a shirt and tie certainly shows that you have more respect for the court. This can go a long way, as judges will be assessing your character when you are before them. Dressing nicely can mean the difference between “getting a break” and not. In most Rhode Island courtrooms, you will not be allowed to enter if you are wearing shorts, t-shirts with inappropriate sayings, torn pants/jeans, hats or halter tops. And remember, just because security let you into the building wearing shorts, does not mean that the sheriffs will let you into the courtroom!
2) BRING YOUR PAPERWORK.
If you have received any paperwork from the court, constable or opposing party, be sure to bring that with you. There are many courtrooms that your case may be heard in, and your paperwork may hold the key as to where you are supposed to be. Find the Clerks’ office if you cannot locate the exact courtroom you are supposed to be in. They can tell you where you need to be.
3) BE ON TIME.
If you are not in court on time, a warrant may be issued for your arrest, you could automatically lose your case, as well as other court orders may result. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled court time. Give yourself enough time to find a parking space, wait in line for security to clear you and locate your courtroom. Showing up late to court may give the judge the impression that you do not care about your case or the ultimate result.
Your courthouse may or may not have free parking. It is best to drive by the courthouse prior to your court date to locate possible public and private parking lots as well as metered parking areas.
5) DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BRING CONTRABAND INTO THE COURTHOUSE.
When you arrive at the courthouse, you will be greeted by the Capitol Police and directed to pass through a metal detector machine, as well as scan any bags or other items you are carrying. Do not bring weapons or other contraband with you as you may be searched and asked to remove your belt and shoes. If contraband is found, it may be confiscated, and criminal charges could be filed against you.
6) FOOD AND PHONES.
Food, drink, cameras, or other recording devices are typically not allowed in the courtrooms. Phones must be turned off. If your phone rings in the middle of court, the judge may order your phone confiscated. You may not chew gum or read in the courtrooms.
7) CHILD CARE.
It is always best to leave children with a guardian rather than taking them to court (unless the child is part of the legal proceedings). When this is not possible, be sure to inquire if your courthouse has child care services. Try to make these arrangements with the court ahead of time, and remember to bring a photo ID with you. If you have a young child who cries or is disruptive, you may be asked to leave the courtroom and wait in the hallway.
Most courthouses have an information booth. If you cannot locate this booth, or your courthouse does not have one, information can usually be obtained by asking the Clerk's Office.
9) THE JUDGE.
Always be respectful to the court. Address the judge as "Your Honor", "Judge" or “Sir/Ma’am”, and always stand when speaking to them. Answer questions by responding with a “Yes” or “No”; not “Yeah”, “Yup” or “Na”. Also remember to speak loudly and clearly as everything you say is being recorded.
10) FEES and FINES.
Be prepared to pay any fees associated with filing paperwork with the court. The clerk will not accept paperwork to be filed, without the appropriate fees. Also be prepared to pay any fines that may be levied against you, though most judges will give you some time to pay.
11) NON HABLA INGLESE?
If you do not speak English, you should contact the court clerk prior to your court date so that an interpreter may be available. Often times, there are Spanish interpreters in the court, but not always, and if you speak any other language, or require any other services (such as a sign language interpreter), those arrangement should be made prior to your court appearance. Failure to do so may result in significant delays in your case.
12) DISABLED ACCESS.
Most courthouses have access for the disabled, however, always call the court clerk to be sure.
That just about sums up how you should prepare for your court date. Court can be a stressful experience, but if you follow these guidelines, much of that stress can be alleviated.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is presented for reference only and is not intended to be legal advice, or create an attorney-client relationship. Consult with a local attorney regarding the particular facts of your legal issues.
If you have suggestions for future legal topics, please email them to: Mesiti@MesitiLaw.com.