Does this Outfit Make Me Look Guilty?

Woman poses in dressThe Law Librarian has blogged about courtroom etiquette before, but this post looks at dressing for the occasion. Think this is a shallow concern that doesn’t apply to you? If you were spending hundreds of dollars on an attorney to represent you at your DWI trial, and he or she showed up dressed for yoga class, you wouldn’t appreciate it.  And you might just feel that you weren’t getting your money’s worth.   Further, the Rules of General Practice require attorneys to wear appropriate courtroom attire Most attorneys in any jurisdiction instinctively get this, but fashion history has given us some unfortunate exceptions.

The attire of litigants themselves is just as key. Jurors, being human, might easily pick up a guilty vibe from obvious lockup attire. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court basically held in Estelle v. Williams that orange would NEVER be the new black (or navy or charcoal gray) in that a defendant could not be compelled to stand trial before a jury while dressed in identifiable prison clothes. The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure 26.03, subd. 2(b) thus state that “[a]n incarcerated defendant or witness shall not appear in court in the distinctive attire of a prisoner.”

For these reasons, it is probably the non-inmate that needs to take the most care in dressing for court.  If you have a lawyer, they’ll likely remind you to dress conservatively.   If you don’t, the Courts’ webpage advises you to “dress conservatively” with “shorts, T-shirts, plunging necklines, and torn clothing” NOT being appropriate Also, rare is the juror or judge that will be impressed by your tattoos or underwear.  For more detailed guidelines, consult this dress code ordered by the Judges of Kent County, Delaware for what to avoid.  Also, the Teen Court of Crowley, Texas offers a great visual guide to court-appropriate attire for younger litigants.  And one last factor to keep in mind:  Even if you outfit isn’t “inappropriate,” bored jurors may become distracted from the merits of your case by the bold details of an unusual outfit.  So play it safe by keeping it simple and understated!

 

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