As a practicing Criminal Attorney who has handled cases in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties for nearly 20 years, there are some things I see that make me shake my head. One of the biggest, most obvious mistakes made by someone who must appear in Court, especially someone who has been charged with a Criminal Offense, is to show up dressed like they’re going to a Tiger’s game.
Most Court’s have “Proper Attire” signs warning about minimum dress standards, but for anyone having to face a Judge for their own case, a little common sense can avoid a lot of problems. Sometimes I have Client’s ask me how they should dress for Court, and in those cases, the person is usually trying to decide between a nice outfit or a suit. Those who ask usually have nothing to worry about. It’s the person in a t-shirt and jeans that isn’t doing themselves any favors.
Even if a Judge doesn’t say anything, part of the decision-making process for each of us is a visual observation of the person to whom we’re speaking. A person’s choice of clothing is a statement to the Court about the level of respect they have for it. I think many people, in their nervousness, might forget this aspect of the case. Certainly, most of the people who show up to Court dressed too casually did not intend to be disrespectful.
So how do you dress? I think a good rule of thumb is to dress as nicely as you would if you had to pay respects at a Funeral Parlor for someone. A suit is not really necessary, nor is a party dress for a woman, but the jeans should be kept at home, if at all possible. At a minimum, a nice shirt, and/or sweater, and some decent shoes can make up for a lack of dress pants, so that if jeans are all you have, you can “dress them up.”
Judges are human. They, like each of us, are influenced by what they see. When a person shows up nicely dressed for their own case, it sends a signal to the Judge that they take their case seriously. It shows an intention to try and make a good impression, and that goes a long way to showing that the person intends to follow the Court’s Orders, whatever they might be.
When someone shows up looking like they’re heading for that Tiger’s game, however, it sends the opposite message. It says, in effect, “whatever….”
Men should shave. If you have facial hair, fine, but shave around it. Excessive facial piercings won’t help a case, either. It’s one thing to walk around in Public looking like a grenade-attack, shrapnel victim, but it’s quite another to stand in front of the Judge looking like that.
Of course these are just my opinions, but I can assure you that they arise from years and years of day-to-day experience in Court. When someone hires me, I feel it’s my obligation to not only handle the legal end of things, but to guide them through the whole process as smoothly as possible. Even if you’re reading this and are thinking “hmmm, I’ve got a few things to work on…,” how much confidence would (or should) you have in a Lawyer who didn’t point these things out? One thing you’ll never see is a Judge peering over the Bench at a Defendant standing in front of them and saying something like “Wow, dude, we’ve got, like, the exact same nose rings!”
I think (and certainly hope) you get my point. When results matter in Court, then a person should always “dress for success.”