Preparing for Your First Court Appearance


If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t given a whole lot of thought about what to do if you have to appear in court. What should you wear? Where do you stand? What will happen? Will you be expected to talk? What should you say? Is there anything you should not say? What if you have a schedule conflict, or there’s an emergency and you’re running late?

Fortunately, it’s my job to help people prepare for their first court appearance. If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime in Michigan, I’m here to help put your mind at ease, tell you what to expect, and help you guide you through the entire process.

How to Prepare Before Your First Day in Court

If you were arrested and charged with a crime in or around Ann Arbor, Michigan, you received a summons to appear in court. The summons specifies the date, time, and location for your first court appearance. To prepare yourself, you should consult with and hire an attorney well before your first court appearance. This will give your attorney time to review the charges, consider possible defenses, and begin preliminary investigations into your case.

In the days leading up to your first court appearance, familiarize yourself with where the courthouse is. Identify how you’ll get there, including the route and your mode of transportation. Try to make the trip around the time you’ll actually need to be there so you’ll know whether traffic will be an issue.

If you can, go into the courthouse and find where the courtroom where your case will be heard.

When you go to the courthouse, remember that you will have to go through a metal detector, so leave metal items at home or in the car. Metals items that need to come in, like car keys, will be placed in a bin and run through a scanner.

On the day of your actual court appearance, plan to give yourself extra time so you’re not worried if you’re running late, and to give yourself extra time if something unexpected comes up.

What to Wear for Your First Court Appearance

Whether it’s fair or not, people will evaluate you on your physical appearance. If you had a chance to visit the courthouse, you’ll have an idea of how people dress.

When appearing for court dress should be business casual - as if you were going to a job interview. For men, I recommend a nice pair of pants and a button-down shirt, and maybe a sport coat or sweater if that’s your style. Ladies may consider a nice pair of pants, a conservative skirt, or a dress, and a conservative top. You want to appear professional and not draw attention to what you are wearing. But at the same time, don’t feel the need to overdo it. You still want to be comfortable. Wear clothes that fit well so you’re not fidgeting while you’re in court.

Resist the urge to try to “dress like a lawyer.” Yes - lawyers will be wearing suits. But if that’s not your style, and you’re not comfortable in a suit, don’t wear one.

What to Expect on the Day of Your First Court Appearance

When the day of your first court appearance arrives, set an alarm and be sure to give yourself extra time to get there.

Once you arrive, find your lawyer. If you need to, call your lawyer from your car before you enter the courthouse. Leave your phone in your case as most courts do not allow people to take them inside. You’ll wait for the judge either in the hall outside the courtroom or in the courtroom itself.

Be prepared for a long day of waiting and things not starting when they’re expected to. There is a good chance that your first court appearance will take longer than you expect, so try not to plan anything important for the rest of the day. If you can, take the day off of work, or make arrangements with your employer so they know you may be late. It’s important that you are able to focus on your time in court without outside distractions.

Meeting with the Judge and Other Court Employees

The courthouse staff is there to help you, but they cannot provide legal advice. Once you find your attorney, he will tell you where to go, where to sit and stand, and will talk to you about what will happen next.

When the judge is ready to take the bench the bailiff will tell everyone in the courtroom to be quiet and ask everyone to stand.

The judge will call the first case. While other people are standing in front of the judge, remain quiet. You do not want to attract attention to yourself while the judge is handling another case.

Once your case is called you will walk to the front of the courtroom where you and your attorney will stand in front of the judge. Let your attorney do most of the talking.

During your first court appearance for a criminal charge, the judge will read the charges, advise you of your constitutional rights, and ask how you wish to plead. If you have hired an attorney, you will almost certainly enter a plea of Not Guilty, as this will give your attorney an opportunity to continue to investigate the charges, negotiate a favorable plea arrangement, or set the case for trial.

If the judge asks you a direct question, such as whether you understand the charges against you or how you wish to plead, answer calmly, confidently, and clearly. Speak only when you are spoken to, and address the judge as “Your Honor.” Do not argue with the judge or anyone else in the courtroom.

Depending on the nature of the charges against you, the judge might make a decision on bail, establish conditions of your release, or set future dates for your case such as when to return to court and a trial schedule.

Facing Criminal Charges in Michigan Drug Crime? Elmen Legal Is Here to Help.

If you or someone you care about is facing criminal charges in Michigan, Elmen Legal is here to help. Learn more about me, read reviews from former clients, and get answers to Frequently Answered Questions. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we invite you to contact Elmen Legal today by calling (734) 707-8915, emailing, or completing my online form.