Headed to Court? Here's What NOT to Do

Charles V. Hardenbergh
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Here are Van's Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Going to Court:

1. Bringing Contraband to the Courthouse

Walking into a courthouse is intimidating. Deputies make you empty your pockets, and they will comb through your personal belongings. They make you walk through a metal detector, and you are subsequently wanded if they suspect you are carrying metal. Every day, hundreds of poor guys and gals just like you forget that they are carrying something innocent but prohibited (take your pick: guns, knives, pills, matches, flasks, etc.). If you are lucky, the deputy will ask you to return the item to your vehicle. You will have to give up your place in line and leave the offending item in your vehicle before returning to the back of the line for a second attempt. If you are not lucky, that pain pill the doctor gave you last year and you forgot was in your pocket could result in a felony narcotics possession charge.

 

2. Bringing What You Need

When you approach the courthouse doors, you will see a lengthy list of items that are not allowed. The list varies from one courthouse to another and is subject to change without notice. Getting the items you need into the courthouse may actually be easier than you think. For example, one unfortunate aspect of getting hauled into court is the time wasted waiting for one's case to be called. Many people plan to turn the tables, bringing a book or newspaper to court so that they can kill two birds with one stone and make productive use of the hours they spend waiting. This plan backfires when the deputy tells them that they can't bring these items into the courthouse. There's a very easy solution that will allow you to bring practically any reading material to court. We tell people this secret only over the phone—it's way too valuable to post it on the Internet, because then everyone will do it and the deputies will stop it.

 

3. Failing to Learn What the Judge Thinks

They say that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client and a lawyer. I never really understood that expression fully until I defended myself on a speeding ticket. This was weeks after I graduated from law school in 1996, and I was facing a charge of driving 45 in a 25 mph zone in Charlottesville, Virginia. I didn't know the first thing about trying cases, but I figured that my new law school diploma meant I had all the tools I needed to make a winning argument. Had I only spoken with an objective attorney who could give me some good advice about the judge I was facing, the results might have been different. Even if you are dead set against using a professional litigator to handle your case, you should talk to a specialist who is familiar with the court you will be facing. The judge in that court is the one and only person who will decide your fate. If you don't know what the judge finds persuasive, you are flying blind.

 

4. Showing up at the Wrong Time

When people give up their right to an attorney and let the court try them without counsel, they assume that the time on the summons is the time that their case will be tried. Unfortunately, they are frequently very unhappy to find that their entire day might be wasted sitting in court. On the other hand, there are just as many situations in which a person arrives at the Courthouse five minutes ahead of time and spend 10 minutes getting through security, only to find that their case was called first and they have already been found guilty in their absence. I know one local court that lists the time for all cases as 8:30 a.m. People would show up on time, but they found themselves waiting in a standing-room-only hallway for hours. The truth is that the docket didn't even begin until after 9:00, and all attorney cases were called first. This might have taken an hour or more, and unrepresented defendants weren't even allowed in the courtroom until the lawyers' docket was over. Defendants without a lawyer finally got into court between 10:00 and 11:00, and one of those poor miserable souls got called last!  Going to court can be a huge waste of time! Before you go to court, call a lawyer who knows how the docket is called. In one local court, you can be called first just by sitting in the right part of the courtroom.

 

5. Saying the Wrong Thing

Many people have no idea that they are actually placing themselves at great risk by telling their side of the story to a judge. They raise their hands, swear to tell the truth, and then make false statement after false statement, often without even meaning to do it. These types of mistakes can turn a minor traffic charge into a felony perjury case. One of the most common questions a judge will ask is "How is your driving record?" The judge is actually looking at your driving record in many cases, and he or she is about to reward or penalize you for being candid or dishonest. I have heard countless defendants state that their record is "clean" only to have the judge then recite back one traffic charge after another. The embarrassed defendant then sounds like a liar, and the results are predictable: guilty as charged, with a greatly increased sentence for trying to mislead the court (if they are lucky enough to escape a perjury charge). Be careful: prosecutors can get access to charges that do NOT appear on your own DMV report!

For an absolutely free consultation about your case, get started by calling (804) 835-5127 to find out whether you need a lawyer, what consequences you are facing, and how to develop a winning trial strategy.