Island Crime Beat: Court etiquette is worth knowing

LIHU‘E — There are avoidable infractions in court that can make the experience miserable for a defendant or observer who violates them.

Most are common courtesies that you would expect to keep in mind in a school or as a guest in someone’s home. Others are particular to court proceedings and keep your mind occupied as to their purpose and origin.

When entering the courtroom it is wise to remove any hats and remove sunglasses. The judge or the sheriff’s deputy will ask anyone in the courtroom to remove eye-wear that is placed on top of the head.

It is not required to dress up for court, but it is suggested. The judges do ask a jury to at least not wear sandals or beach clothing.

It does not mean having to dress in a suit and tie like the attorneys do, but it is a good reflection of character not to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with a Nazi helmet and anti-government slogan. Yes, I have seen that shirt several times in court.

 Shirts like that one does make one wonder if there is intent with the message. Perhaps a defendant who is angry with the system? If not, then why the ambiguity?

The defendants in criminal matters and the gallery tend to dress more informally, and that does not count against them. Some are poor or in a work uniform. Others have little choice of what to wear if brought up from Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center wearing bright orange.

The 5th Circuit Courthouse is only a few years old, and the judges will say they want to keep it looking that way. Many people come through court each day, and the rules are no food or drink or gum chewing, to keep the carpet and woodwork in good condition.

Cell phones are the most common violation. The sheriff’s deputy does not have to be told that when a phone rings, or vibrates, to confiscate the device from the person and not return it until the full calendar has concluded — and with a lecture.

A defendant with a phone that rings will sometimes be reminded by the judge that the phone distracts the court and that it doesn’t help the proceedings.

Some courtrooms are more strict than others about iPads and smart phones,  but recording devices and cameras are not allowed. Its best not to test the water by wearing earphones or tapping on a smart phone and drawing the attention of the court.

A gate separates the gallery from the courtroom. The tables and podiums and jury area are for people involved in litigation or providing testimony.

Defendants and witnesses are usually given direction about where to go when in this area, but it can be confusing at times. It’s best to keep attention focused on the bench unless the attorney is talking to you and try not to look at or talk to the gallery, or the judge might note your distraction from the matters at hand.

A court calendar session begins with the judge entering. It is adjourned or goes into  recess when they return to chambers.

In either case, the bailiff will say, “All rise.” When the court is about to adjourn, that is the signal to stand and not move to leave until the judge has exited the room.

This is a traditional way of showing respect for courts and the rule of law. It was only last week that a judge had a person excluded from court after the deputy had to point at them to stand.

Bailiffs and clerks in the court area are handling the scheduling and putting together the forms that need to be signed in each case.

Attorneys have their etiquette, as well. All matters are directed toward the judge. They ask permission to approach the bench, and they do not speak to the gallery.

The proceedings may seem dull for defendants and loved ones waiting through a dozen continuances, several changes of pleas and maybe a few sentencings before their hearing.

Don’t fall asleep, or the judge will ask the bailiff to wake you, which will be followed by a reprimand.

Some people lose their bearing, and whispers turn to conversation or even laughter at testimony. The ears of the court are sensitive.

The judge does not hesitate to restore decorum. It does not come with the bang of a gavel and a call to order as it does on television. It comes with a pause in the proceedings and a personal reprimand.

If you are in court as a defendant, it might not seem to mean much to care about how you look or are perceived. Given what is at stake, a little attitude check and manners can go a long way.


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