What to wear and what to avoid when dressing for your court hearing or trial
While it may not be fair, the truth is that people often judge others based on appearance. This is true not only in everyday life but also in court. Although judges and juries are supposed to remain impartial throughout a criminal trial, courts are made up of ordinary people who are affected by human nature just like everyone else.
As such, how you dress in court can impact how you’re perceived, and it may open the door to character attacks from the prosecution that, while unfair and untrue, can ultimately affect the outcome of your case.
This is why a good criminal defense lawyer advises their clients on what to wear to criminal court. Whether you want to know how to convey your innocence in court or simply ensure that you project a positive image, below are some tips to help you look your best:
Dress to respect
You’ve probably heard the phrase “dress to impress” before, but in court, you want to dress to respect. Demonstrating that you respect the court, its office and its officers by dressing appropriately can remove undue attention from you while your case is argued. If you show up wearing casual street clothes, the jury is more likely to think you aren’t serious about your defense or your case.
What you don’t want is for your clothes to be a distraction. Essentially, your goal is to show that you are respectful of the judge and jury through your appearance. Demonstrate that you are taking the process seriously by dressing professionally and showing up groomed and attentive. Avoid any clothing, jewelry or other items related to appearance that may call unnecessary attention to you during your trial.
Cover your ink
As stated above, judging someone by their appearance may not be fair, but it is human nature. While tattoos are much more popular and acceptable among the general public today than 50 years ago, a tattooed individual may still prompt unfair bias from a jury. This is particularly true if your tattoos are offensive, intimidating or include violent imagery.
If you have visible tattoos, cover them as much as possible. This can usually be done by wearing long sleeves and a collared shirt. Certain tattoos may not be as easy to hide, including those on the upper neck, the hands and the face. In these cases, you can try to position yourself in a way to minimize a tattoo’s appearance. This may include not using your hands to gesture or shifting your body to one side. Discuss body positioning with your criminal defense attorney to ensure that you don’t end up calling unintended attention to yourself during court.
Know the court’s rules
While most criminal courts have general expectations when it comes to dressing appropriately, some courts and judges have specific rules regarding what is and is not allowed. This is where it pays to work with your attorney to discuss the details of your court case.
Your attorney will likely be familiar with the expectations of the court and judge presiding over your case. Through your attorney, you can find out any specific dress-code requirements you need to be aware of.
Request professional attire
One of the biggest challenges with dressing appropriately for criminal court happens when someone is in jail prior to their case. In these situations, you will likely only have access to your prison uniform, meaning you would have to appear in court wearing an outfit that already makes you look guilty.
In virtually all cases, your attorney can make a request for you to be permitted to wear a suit or similar clothing to court. These requests are often granted, but keep in mind that you may need a friend or family member to bring you the appropriate clothing before your trial. If you don’t have anyone available to provide a suit, your attorney may be able to provide resources to help you find attire that will work in your favor.
Although it’s wise to look professional and respectful in court, keep in mind that comfort is important too. Criminal court proceedings can often take hours, days or even weeks to settle. This means that you may spend many hours each day sitting in a courtroom without the option to move around.
In a hot courtroom, non-breathable fabrics can make you uncomfortable, and this discomfort may reflect in your appearance. Alternatively, in a cold courtroom, thin fabrics may cause you to shiver or move around to get your blood pumping, making you appear anxious.
While you may not be able to control the temperature of the courtroom, you can have some effect on your comfort by choosing clothing that works for your situation. The key is to strike a balance between comfort and respect. Wearing shorts and flip-flops is not an option in court, nor is wearing a sweatshirt, wool hat or scarf.
Work with your defense attorney
In the end, the most important thing you can do if you want to know what to wear to criminal court is talk with your attorney about how to prepare for your trial. Your criminal defense attorney can give you advice that pertains to the specifics of your case. Through your attorney’s guidance, you stand a much better chance of presenting yourself as innocent and avoiding potential prejudice from the jury.