The Scariest Thing That Can Happen At Your First Court Date, And How Your Attorney Can Prevent It

You were arrested, posted bail to get out of jail, and were told to appear at court on a certain date and time. You show up on time, just like you promised. Can the judge have you taken into custody that day, even though you already posted bail?

The answer, disturbingly enough, is yes. On your first court date, the prosecutor can ask for your bail to be raised–if that happens, you will need to post even more bail or be taken into custody.

Here’s how a hearing to increase bail goes:

The prosecutor will argue that the crime that you committed was really serious and that your bail should be raised higher. He or she will usually argue that you’re a danger to society and/or a flight risk.

This is where your attorney comes in. Your attorney needs to be prepared to argue for you on the very first court date and tell your story. In order to keep you out of jail, he or she needs to explain who you are as a person: your family, your connection to the community, your defense against the charges.

A recent case that I had illustrated how important it is to be prepared to argue for my client. I represented one of two 18-year-old men charged with robbery. The other defendant was represented by the public defender. As soon as we arrived at court, the prosecutor told the public defender and me that he was going to try to get our clients’ bail raised. (My client’s family had already used up all the money that they had, and if his bail had been raised, he would have gone to jail until the case was over.) But I had already interviewed my client, and I was ready to argue on his behalf. I explained to the judge that my client had no criminal history and had come to court a half hour early with both of his parents. He was going to school and was working hard to become a plumber; his dream was to own his own business. Then it was the public defender’s turn. He argued that his client “hadn’t picked up any new offenses since he’d been arrested (a month before).” (That’s it!)

The judge’s decision? My client remained out on bail. His co-defendant, someone charged with exactly the same offense, was taken to jail.

Having an attorney who you can trust–someone who is prepared to argue for you from the very first court date­–can make the difference in freedom and jailtime.

WHAT NOT TO WEAR:

  • Hats (You’ll have to take it off anyway, and the bailiff will enjoy yelling at you in open court if you forget)
  • Revealing attire
  • Gang colors or symbols
  • Swear words of any kind or flavor
  • Sports team logos
  • Visible tattoos (to the extent that you can avoid them being visible)
  • Excessive logos (please don’t be the guy in the Gucci print bolero, t-shirt, and belt that I saw at court last week)
  • Shorts
  • Pajamas
  • Sweatsuits
  • Gym attire (including athleisure)

WHAT TO WEAR:

Overall, you’re going for a clean-cut appearance, and your audience is the judge and the prosecutor, both of whom are likely much more conservative than most people. You’re trying to look, above all, not guilty–like you couldn’t have possibly done what they’re accusing you of. You want them to think, “Hey, what’s he/she doing here? Is that a court interpreter? Is he/she an attorney?”

  • Women: Dress pants or professional skirt blouse or dress. If you’re wearing a skirt or dress, it should at least reach the top of your knee caps. A jacket/blazer if it works with the rest of what you’re wearing. Do not wear anything revealing. No cleavage. No body-conforming anything. No shimmer, glitter, or sparkle. No excessively high heels. No excessive makeup. No excessive jewelry. No excessive logos.
  • Men: Professional-looking dress pants. An ironed (or non-iron) button down shirt. A tie and blazer for extra credit. (If you get mistaken for a lawyer, you’re doing it right.) Dress shoes. No saggy pants. Absolutely no underwear showing. Wear a belt. You’ll have to take it off at security, but it will help you look polished. No stand-alone mustache. If you have facial hair, make it clean-cut, and please get a second opinion from someone who will be honest with you about whether to keep it.

Paying attention to what you wear to court is a detail that could make the difference between freedom and incarceration. If you have any questions about what to wear to court, ask an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice.

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