Going to Court
Don’t pick up any new charges while your case is pending. This affects your release status and can effect the serious of any sentence the court imposes if you’re convicted.
Prepare for Court
- Read the paperwork you were given by the police. That tells you what you’ve been charged with. Additional charges may be added or dropped later in the discretion of the District Attorney at your first court appearance.
- Calendar your court date. Make sure you know where court is, where to park, and what time it starts. If you miss court, a warrant will issue for your arrest and you could be charged with the additional crime of failure to appear.
- Get to court early. Often there’s a long line to get through security. Get there early and avoid the rush.
- Bring a newspaper or something to read. While listening to court cases is initially interesting, soon your interest will taper off.
- Dress appropriately. Think: job interview with someone you want to impress.
- Leave the kids behind. Court’s serious stuff. The judges are angered when they think children are brought to court to garner sympathy, and kids don’t have the patience to sit still.
Mistakes to Avoid
- I’m sorry for what happened. I just want to get it over with and make things right. A criminal conviction can mark you for the rest of your life. By admitting guilt early, there is little incentive for the prosecutor to be fair. You lose your negotiating power and waive important rights that protect you against the System. Unless you get a great offer–which most people can’t tell anyway– there is usually no compelling reason to resolve it early.
- I’m not a bad person. I can’t believe this is happening to me. A criminal charge affects people who depend on you too. Most cases begin with the humiliation of handcuffs. Then the System follows up by treating good people shamefully–people with families, financial obligations, or who are risking their jobs. The System thinks crime equals punishment, with small regard to how it affects you or the people who depend on you. You may feel devastated by what’s happened, but to protect your rights and the people who depend on you, you’ll need serious damage control.
- I didn’t do it. I’ll just tell the judge what happened and the case will be dismissed. Even if you’re innocent, you could still be convicted. The courts can and do make mistakes. When you’re charged with a crime, your liberty is in the hands of strangers: the judges, the jury, and the prosecutors. Anticipate that court will be crowded. At your first court date, the judge will NOT let you explain any defenses to your case or why you are innocent. You’ll likely come back to court many times before your case ends, even if it interferes with work or travel.
A criminal case shouldn’t leave a permanent mark against you.
Once a case is over, it’s often possible to get your record expunged and start fresh with a clean slate. Everyone deserves a second chance.