Leonardo Angiulo: Body Language in Court
Monday, February 27, 2012
The topic of personal appearance can be touchy because some people just don’t have extra money for suits and dry cleaning. No one says you have to be dressed in Armani to find justice. Make an earnest effort to wake up in the morning, dress yourself to the best of your ability and make it to court on time. I’ve represented people ranging from day laborers to CEOs and, in my opinion, your economic background has nothing to do with how you are treated in a courtroom. Your presentation has far more impact than your income. It doesn’t matter how much your tie costs, if you have respect for the people around you and the place you’re in, you’ll find respect.
Of course, most people hiring an Attorney get to choose what they wear. When the topic of court clothes comes up, my opinion is the more conservative the better. If you would wear it to the club, you should save it for the club. Don’t wear it to court. Think of court like going to a wedding, at a religious facility where you will sit next to your Grandmother the whole time. And your Grandmother’s so Conservative she still votes for Reagan.
But this isn’t a fashion column and I’m grossly unqualified to help you get into Granny’s will. I want to talk about how subtle communication can be in a courtroom. Let’s take an example you could see outside of court any day of the week: A woman stands up. She takes one step forward, puts her hand out, raises her index finger and points it at you. She turns her head to the side, closes her eyes and the corners of her mouth drop. I don’t have to tell you what she says next. She’s angry. She’s disappointed. She’s upset to the point of searching for words before beginning to speak. You knew all of that without me having to tell you what words she used to say it. You knew it because of her body language.
In a courtroom, a judge and jury watch a witness as much as they listen. When a person sits in a witness box, their body language might as well be going through the microphone because everything is amplified. If an Attorney asks questions of a witness who spends the entire time looking down, looking away and squirming, no one will buy a word the witness is selling. He could be telling the truth, but he doesn’t look like it. And let me tell you, you don’t want a judge rolling their eyes in frustration while you are testifying.
There are many reasons why a person might be in court. It could be trial, but it might also be something less interesting. It could be a pre-trial appearance, a request for additional time to pay court costs or even a probation violation hearing. The same rules apply in any of these situations. If you stand up, fold your hands in front of you, listen attentively and then thank the judge for their time, you’ve done your job.
I see people do it wrong on a regular basis. The worst is when people storm out of a courtroom, slamming a door or muttering something under their breath. Worcester is a really small county and chances are you’re going to be in that court again. In fact, you might even be in front of that same judge. A guy wearing a thousand dollar suit is going to be trading it in for a jumpsuit if he acts like that. He can hire a whole team of lawyers and it won’t change the fact that he failed to abide by a very basic principle. When you’re in a courtroom, we as citizens are subject to the authority of the judiciary. If you need a reminder look at the carving in the face of the old Worcester Courthouse declaring that “Obedience to Law is Liberty.”
I’m not trying to say there is any one way to present yourself in court. What I do think is that when a person walks into a courtroom, no matter what they say, their audience is watching as well as listening.