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Proper Courtroom Attire - Utah Criminal Defense

Posted by Stephen Howard - May 21, 2016

What NOT to Wear to Court

A common question I am asked by defendants facing criminal prosecution in Utah involves what kind of clothing to wear to court. It is an important question. But perhaps the more important question to consider is what you should NOT wear to court.

Over the years, I have seen people appear in court wearing everything from expensive business suits to jail jumpsuits. While there are times that "dressing to impress" can be important, a more fundamental principle for selecting proper clothing for your court appearance is avoiding clothing that will draw negative attention. Two memorable examples of clothing that drew negative attention in the courtroom are t-shirts with references to drugs or god.

Drug Policy Advocacy in the Courtroom

The most common theme for drug-related t-shirts I have seen in the courtroom is marijuana - pictures of marijuana leaves or slogans advocating the legalization of marijuana. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and courts have interpreted this freedom as extending to slogans written on t-shirts - especially when such slogans could be viewed as political speech.

Wearing a t-shirt with a marijuana leaf picture or with a slogan advocating the health or social benefits of marijuana is legal. It is constitutionally protected speech. But wearing such a shirt to court for a criminal case is generally not a good idea - especially if the criminal case involves drug charges.

God as Judge

Another t-shirt recently caught my attention at the courthouse. It contained the following phrase printed large and in all-caps, covering the entire front of the shirt - "ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME." From a Constitutional perspective, this t-shirt lands squarely under two separate First Amendment protections - the right of freedom of speech and the right of free exercise of religion.

Depending on your religious/spiritual perspective, this t-shirt slogan may or may not be viewed as an accurate statement of eternal truth. Either way, it is protected under the First Amendment. But the more important issue, from my perspective as a criminal defense lawyer, is whether it is a good idea to openly challenge the earthly authority of the person who may decide whether you go to jail or prison. I would have to advise my client against wearing such a shirt to court.

What You CAN Do v. What You SHOULD Do

Prosecutors have wide latitude in deciding how aggressively they pursue a case and how generous they will be in negotiating plea bargains. Judges are bound to follow the law, but there are many laws that give judges discretion in how the laws may be applied. A prime example of such laws involve sentencing decisions.

In most criminal cases, a judge can choose whether to impose either prison or jail time. The judge also has discretion in most criminal cases to suspend a prison or jail sentence, and to instead place the defendant on probation. A defendant facing a judge at a sentencing hearing would be well-advised to take every reasonable step to create the best impression possible.

There is a wide range of clothing that can be worn to court. It is not always necessary to wear formal business attire. But as a defendant, you often face an uphill fight in the criminal court system. It is generally best to not wear anything that will make that fight harder.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side is vital to ensuring that your rights are protected. With a track record that includes dismissals or not-guilty verdicts on cases as serious as aggravated robbery, attempted murder, burglary, drug charges, DUI, and many more, Stephen Howard has the experience necessary to help you achieve the results you need. Contact us today to see what the right attorney can do for you.


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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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