What you wear and how you act in court matters. It affects that way others see you, including the judge and/or jury.

While dealing with criminal charges can be overwhelming on its own, preparing to conduct yourself respectfully in court is one of the best ways to regain your confidence and strength before stepping inside.

To help you make a positive impression where it matters most, I’ve created a simple guide covering what to wear to court as well as how to act once you’re there. Let’s start with attire:

Proper Courtroom Attire in Wisconsin

t’s common practice for attorneys to advise clients about what to wear in court. In general, it’s best to treat a courtroom appearance like a job interview: a suit is best, but conservative business clothing is appropriate too. 

It’s likely your courtroom will already have a dress code—which you should read through as you prepare for court. Dress codes typically include rules like:

  • No hats of any kind (unless for religious purposes)
  • No shorts
  • No tank tops or revealing tops
  • No sandals or exposed bare feet

As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to overdress than underdress. Courtroom attire reflects a defendant’s respect for the system—a system that judges and juries uphold. When they see you're disrespecting that system, there's a good chance it won't reflect well in their decision. This also applies to friends and family in the courtroom—something to keep in mind during preparation.

How to Act in Court

It goes without saying that being respectful and courteous in court is absolutely essential when going before a judge and/or jury. This is especially true when interacting with courtroom personnel. 

As a general rule of thumb, do not engage in conversation with prosecutors, witnesses, and especially victims at any point before, during, or after the proceeding, unless you're asked to do so.

It’s important to realize that everyone in the courtroom is used to dealing with rude defendants so being extra careful to be polite and respectful can go a long way.

A simple "thank you" can actually make a very meaningful impression on those around you and it's one of the easiest ways to improve your perception inside the courtroom.

How to Address the Judge

Depending on kind of court proceeding you're attending, there may be times where you must speak to the judge directly. The two things to remember to do in these situations are to be as polite as possible and show genuine remorse when it’s appropriate.

Along with these general tips, there are a number of basic rules and traditions you should follow at all times:

  • Stand up when addressing the judge and maintain good, upright posture.
  • Always refer to the judge as “Your Honor.” Never use the terms “Judge,” “Sir,” or “Ma’am.”
  • When it’s time to speak, do so clearly and intelligibly. If there’s microphone, speak directly into it. If there's no microphone, project your voice so everyone can hear you without yelling.
  • Don’t speak during the proceeding unless you’re asked to do so. Your attorney will give you guidance on what you should and shouldn’t say. Before court, ask them for general guidance on what you might be asked and how to respond.
  • Keep your emotions under control. Even when you’re not directly addressing anyone in the courtroom, you should never appear angry or agitated. Similarly, immature behavior like laughing and smugness can be disastrous to your chances of a good outcome. Use common sense.

A Final Note

Once you’re inside a courtroom, it’s important to avoid discussing the case with anyone other than your attorney. Details of the case shouldn’t be discussed anywhere where you may be overhead.

If you must confer with your attorney while court is in session, you must be respectful and remain engaged in all proceedings.

Need Help?

If you’re facing criminal charges in Wisconsin or have questions regarding statutes of limitation, it’s important to contact an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney who can examine the specifics of your case, explain the possible penalties, and provide legal assistance.

Click here for a free consultation with Madison attorney Pat Stangl.