15 E. Franklin St., Richmond, VIrginia

Monday – Friday, 8 a.m – 5 p.m.


Quick Tips for Court Appearance

Tips for Court Appearance

The law is important. There are many posts presented by this firm covering specific areas of law as they might relate to your case. But rather than dwell on the letter of the law in this post, we will be presenting some thoughts and tips for court appearance.


Different courthouses, Different judges

No two courthouses in Virginia are the same. No two judges in Virginia are the same. No two judges, even in the same courthouse, are the same. Accordingly, any previous experience you may have at a different courthouse in front of a different judge may not indicate what to expect with your current case. 

If you have an arraignment, even if you can appear by letter, it’s not always a bad idea to appear in person anyway. As long as you can do so without any great inconvenience to your schedule. Doing so allows you to see the courtroom, it often allows you to see and hear the judge who will be deciding your case, it gives you a chance to appear well-dressed and respectful, and it will show the judge that you appear for your court appearances. You will get an idea of how long it takes to get to the courthouse, where to park, and what to expect from courthouse security (e.g. a “no cellphones allowed” policy).

Note: Is your case in the Circuit Court? If so, keep in mind that most two-story courthouses keep their Circuit Courts on the second floor, with District-level courts on the ground floor.

When you do appear for your trial date, you won’t be going in blind and will instead come in equipped with knowledge of the courthouse layout, courthouse policies, and the judge’s general demeanor. In a process that often has many uncertainties, it’s helpful to remove a few whenever possible. The last thing you want on your trial date is to be unsure of where to go, how long it’ll take to get there, or what the general vibe of the courtroom is going to be like.


Should you do this for a speeding ticket? Probably not; on a speeding ticket, you may not even be required to appear on the trial date if you have an attorney representing you. But it might be a good idea for anything ranging from a DUI to a more serious criminal offense.


Non-Verbal Communication Tips for Court Appearance

Lawyers and judges are known for their skilled manipulation of words, but there’s more to courthouse communication than the spoken word. Research has shown that non-verbal communication (e.g. posture, eye contact, facial expressions, etc.) could have a significant impact on the outcome of criminal cases.

What does this mean for you? When charged with a crime in Virginia, you’re not expected to be a skilled actor, but nevertheless, your behavior in court can and should be optimized to convey to the judge or jury such factors as your honesty, your remorse, or other emotions related to your case. So, what should you do?

One approach that requires no particular command of posture or facial expression is how you dress for court. While formal attire is not necessary, dressing in at least semi-formal or business casual clothing is probably a good idea. The prosecutor will be wearing a suit. Any officers will be in uniform or in a suit. The last thing you want to do is come to court appearing overly casual when opposing parties are literally draped in authority. 

Research has shown that casual or institutional attire on a defendant can have negative effects on case outcomes. If you appear in something more formal than jeans and a t-shirt, it’s potentially easier for an allegation of wrongdoing to be considered more of a one-time aberration or for a judge to agree that your record confirms you are a hard-working member of the community. As an extreme example, a man once appeared in a Circuit Court in Virginia with a “Snitches Get Stitches” shirt; you can imagine the judge’s reaction!

Posture is something that requires relatively little effort during the course of a court appearance but which may prove helpful to your case. Simply holding a more open, confident posture (as opposed to a defensive, closed posture) may provide more self-confidence while reducing perceived submissiveness and insecurity. Video demonstrations on YouTube are probably the easiest way to see this in action. Test it out on yourself — even a small adjustment may be helpful to you.

If you are concerned that anxiety about your Virginia court case may affect how you appear before a judge or jury, there are many interventions available to reduce that effect. Although the full range of approaches to combat anxiety is well beyond the scope of this post, one such example is deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises to reduce anxiety can easily be found online. Research has shown its viability as a way to reduce anxiety. It is not uncommon for people charged with something as mundane as a traffic ticket to feel anxiety, so there is no shame whatsoever in recognizing this and finding ways to reduce its severity before you appear for your case.


More Tips for Court Appearance: Ask Your Lawyer!

One final point to make: your lawyer will know more than you about whatever local Virginia court in which your case is scheduled. Don’t be afraid to ask him or her about the courthouse or the judges ahead of time. If your case is going to trial or has the potential to go to trial, it’s a given that you will want to talk with your lawyer about the overall trial strategy (which ought to include appropriate attire, as well as how else to present yourself in court by way of posture, tone of voice, etc.). Again, it’s not just about what you say but how you say it and how you look when you say it.

While not everything about your Virginia court case can be planned ahead of time, some things can be. Some things can be optimized with potentially very little cost or effort. Don’t sell yourself (or your case) short. The court process is most likely a rare event in your life, so take it seriously and work to get the best possible outcome. It’s worth it.

If you need an attorney to help you understand how to put your best foot forward and support you in achieving the best possible outcome for your case, call David G. Parker today for a free consultation. 


1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22396340/ (“Results indicated that nonverbal behaviors were more important than verbal cues for perception of remorse.”)

2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01047503 (“Results in both studies revealed significant bias against defendants in personal dress with armed supervision and institutional dress with no supervision.”)

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5865731/ (“…the expansive condition showed higher positive emotions after the ME. Moreover, exploratory analyses showed that adopting an expansive posture improved positive emotions, leading to improvements in negative emotions…”)

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9954474/ (“…breathwork interventions yielded significant improvements in anxiety symptoms…”)


More Posts

Schedule your free consultation now