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Survive A DUI

How to get through getting a DUI - both mentally, and legally.

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Public Defenders

Guest Post: Preparing for Court -  Surviving your DUI Court date

Max Frizalone of the Frizwoods Group reached out to me and offered some insights on how to prepare for court. Personally one of the big advantages of hiring a lawyer was having to avoid all this (although in my case they messed it up), but since some people opt not to hire one, or are in a position to where they may have to appear, I thought this would be a valuable article. - Tom


Preparing for Court -  Surviving your DUI Court date

If you are required to appear in court, especially as a defendant in a DUI case, you must dress and behave appropriately. Although this seems simple for lawyers, attire can be a point of stress for many Defendants. I’ve written this article as a day-of-court guide for anyone who might be unfamiliar with what to wear for their case. The basic rule of thumb is dress to impress.

In other words, you must present yourself in a way that makes the best possible impression on the judge, the prosecution, and the jury (if applicable). All of these people will have an impact on the outcome of your case, and they will—rightly or wrongly—judge you based on your appearance and behavior in court. 

Therefore, understanding how to present yourself in court is a must if you want to increase your odds of a successful outcome in your criminal case. In this article, we discuss how to prepare for court for a DUI case. 

The Science of First Impressions
Studies have shown that a person forms a first impression of another person within seconds of meeting. According to research in the field of neuroscience, the human tendency to judge others based on first impressions is hard-wired into our brains. In other words, it is our natural instinct as human beings to make snap judgments about others.

 So, it’s easy to see how this can affect you as a criminal defendant in court. Judges, juries, and prosecutors are driven by the same human instincts as everyone else, and their first impressions of you can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case. Therefore, as a criminal defendant, it is imperative that you do everything you can to make an excellent first impression when appearing in court. As unfair as it may seem, your appearance and behavior in court can have a huge effect on the outcome of your case. 

What to Wear
The first thing that the judge, prosecutor, and jury will notice about you when you enter the courtroom is your appearance. Therefore, you must dress in a manner that makes a great impression on the people who will have an impact on your case. For men, best practices would be to wear:
  • A clean suit or a sport coat and dress pants
  • Conservative dress shoes 
  • Matching dress socks
  • A solid-colored shirt with a collar
  • A solid-colored tie.

And for women, appropriate dress in court means:

  • A dress blouse
  • A professional skirt or dress pants 
  • Conservative dress shoes, such as low-heel pumps or flats
These outfits are just recommendations. In the post modern world of 2022, I do not presume to tell someone they must wear a certain outfit, or need to dress according to their gender. Similarly, a Judge won’t necessarily admit to treating someone different based on their dress. And honestly, I truly believe that they wouldn’t do so consciously. Having said that, the subconscious isn’t well understood but is generally accepted to drive some of our decision making. I try not to leave things to chance, so dressing for business is a safe bet. 

 In my career as a Public servant (on both sides of a Court room) I have seen nearly every bad outfit that a person can wear to Court. Everything from F@!* the Police shirts, to shirts that are barely there. I can honestly say that those people were taken less seriously. In a room where your credibility might be the difference between jail and a probation, it’s important to play it safe. 

Additional Attire Tips

Don’t dress casually:
As noted above, you shouldn’t dress casually in court. Court is a business-like environment. If you dress casually, the people who will affect the outcome of your case may assume that you aren’t taking the matter seriously, and this isn’t a good thing. No matter what you think about the criminal charges against you, you must demonstrate that you are respectful of the legal process—and this starts with your appearance.

Avoid flashy or overly formal clothing:
Although you shouldn’t dress casually in court, you also should avoid wearing flashy or overly formal clothing, as this may also paint you in a bad light. For example, court isn’t the place to wear a tuxedo or evening gown. In addition, you should avoid clothes with bright colors or flashy patterns. 

Avoid anything controversial:
Finally, you should avoid wearing clothing that may be seen as controversial, such as clothes that display political or social statements. You have no way of knowing how the judge, prosecutor, or jury may react to such statements, so it is best to avoid them altogether. 

Grooming Tips
In addition to wearing the proper clothing to court, you should ensure that you are well-groomed and present a neat, clean, appearance. This includes:  
  • Styling your hair in a conservative, neat fashion
  • Avoiding wet, dirty, or messy hair. You don’t want to look like you’ve just woken up. 
  • Scheduling a haircut one or two weeks before your court date.
  • Keeping your nails neat, clean, and trimmed
  • For women, using neutral or conservative nail polish
  • For men, being clean-shaven or having a neatly trimmed beard.

Cover Tattoos and Non-Traditional Piercings 

Tattoos and piercings are widespread and common today. Unfortunately, despite their prevalence, negative connotations associated with tattoos and certain types of piercings still exist, especially in areas that tend to be more socially conservative. 

And although this certainly isn’t true across the board, many judges and jurors hold traditional views on tattoos and piercings. Therefore, you should err on the side of caution when it comes to displaying your tattoos and body piercings in court. In other words, if possible, you should cover your tattoos and remove all non-traditional piercings before appearing in the courtroom. 

Unfortunately there are certain tattoos that cannot be easily covered. I have personally been involved in cases with facial tattoos that were covered by makeup. While it was challenging, it was important to attempt to cover these tattoos based on the subconscious negative associations that jurors and judges might hold against a client or witness.

Although, as a criminal defendant, you probably won’t have the opportunity to speak often in court (your attorney will likely encourage you to exercise your constitutional right to remain silent), when you do have a chance to speak, you should do so respectfully. For example, when dealing directly with the judge in your case, you should use a respectful tone of voice and always address him or her as “your honor.” In addition, you should avoid using slang terminology and other language that may give the judge and jury the impression you aren’t taking the legal process seriously.  

There are certain points in every case where I discuss having my client give an impact statement before their sentence (if they are found guilty). I always ask my clients to prepare the statement in advance as it is necessary to make a few edits. Additionally, I always ask my clients not to criticize the State’s case, unless we’ve lost a contested trial. There’s nothing worse then entering a guilty plea and then arguing with the Judge that you weren’t guilty, or the police lied. If those things are in fact true, then it would be best to hash it out at a trial. 

Presenting yourself in an appropriate manner while in court is a necessary component of a solid defense. However, there is much more to successfully fighting DUI charges than simply looking nice and behaving respectfully. To give yourself the best chance of success in your criminal case, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Look to an attorney's reputation in the community and speak with them before paying any money. 

Best of luck with your Court date, you’re going to be A-O-K.

What about a Public Defender?

In the United States, we have the right to a legal defense whether we can afford one or not. Kinda. The public defender system exists in the hopes of providing everybody with a shot at defending themselves in their legal matters, but it’s a woefully bad system.

You know the whole “if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you”? bit of the miranda rights? The definition of being able to afford one if very narrow, and often you won’t be able to qualify. You have to be able to prove that you cannot afford a private attorney, and what qualifies as being unable is very narrow. It is incredibly easy to not be able to afford a lawyer, and making too much to qualify to receive a public defender. If you’re trapped in this “donut hole” I can only offer you my deepest sympathies.

There’s no clear cut threshold of what qualifies or doesn’t. I was given a rough outline once and completely dismissed the thought - and I was not making a lot of money at all.

As for the quality of the public defenders - this is a mixed bag. Some attorneys find they have a duty to give back, and volunteer their time with the public defenders office. These lawyers are exceptionally rare.

Most of the time public defenders are overworked lawyers just trying to make it to the end of the day. They have little time for your case, and little time for you. A private lawyer may not answer all of your emails or calls, but many they will, they will have an exponential amount of time for you.

It’s a terribly broken system. One so bad, that it gets a Jon Oliver clip: