Does What Defendants Wear to Court Have an Impact on Their Case?

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This blog discusses proper dress code for a defendant to wear during pre-trial criminal court appearances (read: not for trial, testifying as a witness, serving jury duty, etc.). From experience, it absolutely matters what you wear to court. All of our clients are advised to dress properly, as we have witnessed it make a favorable impression on the court. [Sidebar: The same is true in the inverse, we have seen improper attire work against defendants.] But what is the proper way to dress for court, specifically if you’re a criminal defendant?

Court is not a casual place. It is where significant matters take place. Whether you are facing serious jail time or a minor infraction, a well-dressed person is showing respect to the court. It doesn’t mean you must wear a business suit (although if you are able, you should). However, there is a difference between wearing dress pants with a button-down shirt and flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt. You want your clothing to work for you, not against you. You want your attire to say you take your legal matters seriously and that you respect the court. It’s true, you should not be judged as a person for the way that you are dressed, but the judges (the prosecutors, and the jury) are just people, and people form opinions based on appearance. If this weren’t true, then it would not be unconstitutional to force a defendant to stand trial in jail clothing or imposing physical restraints, which has been said to violate the 6th Amendment right to a trial by jury by undermining the presumption of innocence.” See, Estelle v. Williams (1976) 425 US 501, 504-505. The bottom line is you should be dressed as well are you are able to dress for each court appearance.

Courthouse: If the courthouse you are appearing in has a dress code, you should unquestionably follow it. You don’t want to risk not being permitted in the building and being late or missing your appearance. New York State Courts have no formal court dress code. Similarly, the New York Federal Courts also have no formal dress code, but advise, “Proper court attire is mandatory. No jeans, shorts, tank tops, sweats or other very casual attire is permitted.[1]” The NYS Federal Courts suggest business casual or full business attire for jurors who are appearing for jury duty. Without explicit guidelines, defendants can be confused about what to wear on their court date. [Sidebar: NYS Federal Courthouses will not allow you to bring in your cell phone, electronic device, and camera or recording device.] As a rule of practicality, do not wear too much jewelry, or metal objects. You will be passing through a metal detector to gain entry into the building.

The Judge: Each judge may have his or her own rules. Most judges will not allow you to wear a hat while your case is being called. Others won’t allow you to wear a hat inside their courtroom at all. Sometimes the judges will have rules posted outside of their courtroom. If that is the case, make sure that you are in compliance with your judge’s request. While defending your criminal case, you want to do everything possible to gain a favorable outcome. Even though dressing up may not be plausible for you, you don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize your case or hassle you during the process. Don’t wear offensive clothing with curse words, lewd statements or images. The judge could request you remove that item of clothing and have your case recalled when you are more properly dressed. We have seen judges remove defendants who were not dressed appropriately, for example, wearing their jeans buckled around their knees. [Sidebar: Judges are not allowed to request you remove religious attire.]

The bottom line is you need to dress appropriately. Men: wear a business suit and tie. Woman: wear a suit or professional dress. If you do not own a suit, now may be a good time to buy one. At the very least, wear nice pants and a button-down top. If you would wear it to a job or college interview, then it is probably suitable for court. Avoid wearing jeans, flip flips, t-shirts, revealing/tight clothing, clothes that do not fit, leggings, pajamas, hats, sunglasses, du-rags, flashy clothing/accessories, etc. You will see other defendants in court dressed in casual street clothes; however, you want to stand out in a good way when appearing before the judge.

[1] US District Court- Eastern District of New York,

If you’ve been charged with a crime, call the Law Offices of Jennifer G. Tocci, P.C., to schedule a free consultation (631) 343-7676.

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