Going to Court in Florida for the First Time – Here’s What to Expect
Going to court is not the same as going to a job interview, although there are some similarities. You will be the center of attention when it is your turn to take the stand, and you will be asked a number of questions. Even if you are not taking the stand, you will be expected to follow the dress code and etiquette required by the Florida Court’s rules. Additionally, if this is your first time in court, you will need to be aware of several facts that can help make or break your day. A judge expects a certain level of compliance in the courtroom and rarely will make exceptions. Some of what you experience may be uncomfortable but unfortunately, people, over the years, have abused good taste and decorum, and rules assuring an orderly, tasteful courtroom environment have been established by the Florida court. Here are some helpful guidelines if you will be attending a session in a Florida Court:
What to wear: it would seem that the current style of clothing, which is often very casual, that what someone wears in the courtroom isn’t all that important. Wrong. The Florida courtroom, by most standards, is considered very conservative, almost old-fashioned.
- No shorts, tank tops, mini-skirts, hats (unless required for religious purposes), ripped jeans or shirts, flip-flops, or weapon-size belt buckles can be worn.
- Men should dress in slacks or dress jeans and a collared shirt. Casual suits and sports coats are fine. Hair should be neatly combed and put in a man bun or ponytail if long. Beards should be trimmed and clean. Shoes should be polished (clean if athletic shoes) and worn with socks. Jewelry should be modest, not a lot of heavy chains or rings.
- Women, like men, need to be attractive but not to the point of standing out in a crowd. Again, a conservative approach is required. Slacks, a blouse, and skirt, a dress, or a simple suit work best. Colors are fine but should not be too bright such as metallic or fluorescent. Prints are also fine but should not be garish or suggest any type of personal statement such as political party or religious belief. Jewelry needs to be light with not, for example, many piercings or long dangling earrings. No yoga pants or leggings unless under a skirt or dress, which still need to be a respectful length. Comfortable shoes are advised with no spike heels. Socks or pantyhose must be worn even with sandals—no bare legs. Keep make-up conservative, avoiding artificial long lashes, loud lipstick colors, and heavily colored eyelids. Hair should be clean and in a modest color and style. A Florida courtroom is not a place to wear purple, blue, or green hair.
What to bring or not to bring: you must be very careful regarding what items you bring into a Florida courtroom:
- Unless you will be waiting outside in the hall, you cannot have any type of reading material, such as a book or magazine, inside the courtroom.
- No portable electronic devices, unless they are authorized by the presiding judge, are allowed in a Florida court, which includes phones, i-pads, and laptops.
- All items in your pockets or purse or any other items will be put in a container to go through the scanner as you enter the building. You will also be scanned with a wand.
- No food or drink is allowed in the courtroom. There will be a drinking fountain near the restrooms. Chewing gum is discouraged.
- No tobacco products
- No cameras or tape recorders
- Bring a sweater or light jacket, as most courtrooms are cold, and you may be sitting for a good while.
Here are some other tips for your visit to a Florida court:
- Always be on time!! It is smart to plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early in case of problems with backed-up traffic or finding a parking place. Many people have someone drive them to the courthouse. Not only is this a good idea before your hearing, but it is also a good idea after as you may be emotionally upset and not in a good frame of mind to drive.
- Be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before court. If you have trouble sleeping, at least rest your mind and eyes—avoid bright light and electronics.
- Eat a substantial breakfast if you can. If you are too nervous to eat, have something like an Instant breakfast. Caffeinated drinks that most people have in the morning are fine but will add to your anxiety level without food with them. Too you may be at court for many hours before the judge takes a break, and hunger pangs won’t help your ability to think clearly and keep emotionally calm.
- Most attorneys will have had a practice session with you to help you know what you are likely to encounter in Florida Court. Review your notes and write down questions you want to ask your lawyer before the judge enters the courtroom.
- Try to keep a calm, positive facial expression. Look confident but not cocky. You can clench your hands but not in such a way as to appear ready to hit someone. Sometimes having something concrete like a certain button on your shirt or blouse or ring to touch and rub when you begin to feel out of control can help keep you centered. Repeating in your head your favorite meditation, prayer, or mantra can be helpful as well.
For many people going to court for the first time can seem almost scary. Thankfully the Florida Court has guidelines to follow. Family and friends with courtroom experience can also share what worked well for them. Before your day in court, if you can visit a courtroom while it is in session or even visit the courthouse and look into an empty courtroom, some of your initial fears will be lessened. Plan something fun following your time in Florida Court, which will give you something to look forward to no matter the outcome, unless you, unfortunately, have to go to jail.