General Guidelines for Making an Effective Appearance in Court

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Many people are intimidated at the thought of going to court. The rules, formalities, and fear of the unknown make the whole experience stressful. Read our helpful guide for information that will help you get through your court appearance with flying colors.


Never Miss Your Court Date in Virginia


Going to court is not optional. Missing your court appearance can result in more difficulties with the legal system going forward. More often than not, people miss court appearances because they forget about the date, show up late, or have the incorrect date noted in their calendar.

If you miss a court appearance several things can happen:


  • In a Criminal Case, a judge can issue a warrant for your arrest. You could also be required to forfeit any bail that you may have posted for pre-trial release. Finally, the judge could issue an additional criminal charge for Failure to Appear because it is a crime in Virginia to willfully miss a court appearance in a criminal case.


  • In a Civil Case, a judge can decide the case against you because of your absence. This is called default judgment, which is the penalty for failing to appear in a civil matter in Virginia.


Emergencies do happen, and the courts recognize this. However, if you encounter an emergency that prevents you from making it to a court appearance or is causing you to run late, you MUST contact your attorney or the court IMMEDIATELY. By contacting your attorney, he or she may be able to minimize the amount of damage that can occur due to your absence.


Make Sure You Arrive Early to Court

  • Being late to court can result in you missing the appearance entirely. As discussed in the previous section, this could have negative effects on you and/or your matter before the court.


  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the courthouse. Traffic and parking will never be adequate excuses for being late or missing an appearance.
  • Make sure you allow for the time required to get through security. Every courthouse has some kind of security at the entrance. Often, these checkpoints can have lines to move through, which can take time. Don’t put yourself in a position where a delay at the security entrance of the court could cause you to be late or miss your appearance. This will not be a valid excuse and could have negative effects on the disposition of your case.


  • Being in court is as much about your case as it is about showing respect to the court. Being late or missing an appearance is extremely disrespectful to the court and all parties involved. If you are late, you are essentially saying that your time is more valuable than the court’s and that whatever you are in court for is relatively unimportant to you. Don’t let something like punctuality create a negative impression.


Dress Appropriately for Court

  • Going to court is a formal event. Dress appropriately.


  • This does not mean you have to go buy a new suit to go to court. What it does mean is that you should make every effort to look presentable in court. If you have a suit, wear it. If you don’t have a suit, pick out the nicest, most conservative outfit you have. If you are a female, please remember that your nicest outfit for a night on the town is not appropriate for court. Dresses should not be sleeveless or low cut, and they should extend beyond the knees.


  • Do not wear hats or shorts. Flip flops, logo tee shirts, ripped jeans, sandals, hoodies, and tank tops are not appropriate for court.


  • Many courthouses have a posted dress code. Make sure you know what it is before you show up to the court.


  • No matter what you are wearing, tuck your shirt in, pull your pants up, don’t chew gum or tobacco, and LEAVE YOUR CELL PHONE IN THE CAR. Courts in Virginia do not allow cell phones in the building, and they will make you return your phone to your car. This could cause you to be late (see above).


Be Prepared to Wait

  • When you go to court, your case will have an assigned time or docket. Most of the time, your case will be heard on time. But sometimes, the court is delayed moving through the day’s cases. These delays could mean you have to wait a while for your case to be heard.
  • Be prepared to wait, be patient, your case will be heard. Sometimes your attorney will have an idea of how long the wait may be.


Stay Quiet and Be Respectful

  • Do not speak out of turn in the courtroom. If your case is not currently being heard before the judge, you should be sitting quietly waiting for your case to be called. If your case is being heard (and you are sitting or standing next to your attorney or in front of the judge), speak only when asked to do so.
  • Speaking out of turn will only hurt the court’s impression of you. It may also result in a reprimand by a judge or deputy. In extreme cases, it could result in a charge of contempt of court, which would carry the possibility of jail time and/or a fine.


  • Answer questions directly, and offer only answers to the questions asked. Do not raise your voice or stray off into subjects that aren’t related to the question you are being asked. If the court wants to know something, it or an attorney will ask you.


  • Don’t interrupt. Trying to speak over an attorney or judge shows a great deal of disrespect for the process and the court.


Know Your Next Court Date Before You Leave

  • In many cases, your court appearance will not be the last time you are required to be in court. Pay attention to whether or not another date is being set by the court. Most often, the deputy of the court will give you a card with your next court date written on it. But if that doesn’t happen, it is still your responsibility to know the next date, remember it, and show up or suffer the consequences of missing a court date (discussed above).



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