One of the best parts about being a criminal defence lawyer is when I cross the border into the United States for a shopping weekend. Border officials typically ask, "Have you ever been to court?" I reply, "Pretty much daily... I'm a criminal defence lawyer." The look on their face is usually a combination of annoyance and frustration. I sit there grinning from ear to ear.
Most people don't go to court regularly and have no idea how it works, what to say, or what to wear. So, here are a few tips for a first court appearance in Manitoba:
- Do not chew gum. A clerk, a magistrate, or a judge will likely tell you to spit it out and then wait for you to follow orders. In any event, chewing gum usually makes you look less sophisticated so just avoid it when heading to court.
- Do not use your cell phone. Turn it on to vibrate or off. I guarantee you'll get a few glares if your Rhianna ringtone starts blaring in the middle of court. You can't text while you're in a courtroom either and definitely do not answer a call. Lawyers are allowed text and email in court, so if you're really anxious to use your phone in court, just do 3 years of law school and you're good.
- Arrive a little bit early. Parking can sometimes be rough in downtown Winnipeg or there can be lineups to get past security. Plan to be there 10-15 minutes early. If you miss your court appearance, you could get an additional criminal charge and a warrant for your arrest.
- Wear appropriate clothing. You do not need to come to your first court date in a suit and tie, that can be a bit over the top but everyone is judged on how they look. Do not wear clothes that have obscene words or images on it, so you can leave your "I heart weed" shirt at home. Women should not wear revealing clothing, court isn't a night club or a place to find your next boyfriend. I recommend plain shirts or hoodies. A pair of jeans with a button down shirt is also a good pick. At a trial or a sentencing hearing, more formal clothing is recommended.
- Take off your hat in court. Nothing on your head when you're in court including hats or sunglasses. The court may grant exceptions for religious headwear.
- No food or drinks in court. Guzzle down that Timmies before you get to court. Drinks are a big no no and you'd be crazy to think you could get away with eating in court.
- No weapons or drugs. Pretty simple really, you go through security at the courthouse so don't bring illegal items to court with you. You really shouldn't have these things at all... but definitely do not bring them to court.
What will actually happen at my first court date? Great question, but I'll save that for the next post.
About the author
Michael Dyck is a criminal lawyer at Tom Rees and Company. He represents clients from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit TomRees.ca.