Rules of the Court
For many first time defendants, the idea of appearing before a court can be a daunting and nerve-wracking one. Even loved ones of a defendant can experience confusion and discomfort in assisting with defending charges and appearing in court. However, the rules of the courtroom are actually fairly simple, and a little familiarity with those rules ahead of time can make defendants, witnesses, family, and friends more comfortable and better able to advocate for their rights and interests.
The Lay of the Land
The first manner in which those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system can make themselves more comfortable for the process is by understanding the layout of the courtroom and getting a feel for what one might call the lay of the land. In the rear of most courtrooms is a spectator area of open seating, called the gallery, where members of the public and those accompanying the defendant may sit (defendants who are free on bail or similarly may sit here as well awaiting their cases to be called). A physical bannister or hinged door separates the gallery from the front of the courtroom (this is the “bar”, and the origin of the phrase “passing the bar”). The bench is where the judge sits, often up front with court reporters or a clerk or two. The jury box, where jurors sit, is generally alongside the courtroom, and the empty space between counsel tables and the bench is called the well. Take a look at this example layout.
Where to Go
Do not be overly worried about knowing where to go or stand; the court is aware that members of the public may not be familiar with what to do, and bailiffs or clerks call cases and direct individuals on when and where to go. As a general rule, the only time a defendant will pass the “bar” is with his or her lawyer when his or her case is called, when the defendant will stand behind the defense counsel table. The defendant will likely never stand in the well of the courtroom or approach the bench (unless for some reason the judge invites him or her to do so).
What to Do
The key to knowing how to behave in court is to remember that the courtroom is a conservative, traditional, and rather formal place, and defendants who demonstrate that they respect the court and the system will be looked upon favorably. Dress in clean businesslike attire (and if friends or family will be in the gallery, insist they do the same), address others courteously, address the judge as “Your Honor”, and in general, speak only when asked. Avoid emotional responses, including body language, gestures, laughter, smugness, or other off-putting behaviors that signal disrespect or nonchalance. Defendants should not speak about their case with witnesses or anyone else other than their lawyers, and should be cautious about not letting others overhear information about their cases in elevators, bathrooms, or hallways.
Who to Have by Your Side
At Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian, our experienced and successful Tampa lawyers are ready to defend you. While knowing how to behave in court can be helpful, only the assistance of a professional can protect your rights. Call toll-free at 1 (800) 227-2275 for a consultation today.