The court will call your case. Be there. Be on time. Be early, so that you can talk with your lawyer if you haven't spoken with him or her recently. You need to get the run down on the situation. The attorney can fill you in on the results of the pre-sentence investigation, let you know what mood the judge is in and what to expect will be asked of you. If probation is likely the two of you need to go over what the terms will be. Show up with your documents, letters of recommendation, updates from your treatment agency or anything else you Check This Out might think is helpful. This takes a bit of time. Be early to your sentencing or you could be late to your own funeral.
What to Wear
Wear something nice. Don't wear a Bob Marley t-shirt. From experience I can tell you this is a bad idea. Don't wear a t-shirt with a marijuana leaf or an anarchy sign or pentagram. In all likelihood you are not a political prisoner. This is not the time to make a political or social statement. These are shirts that give the finger to the judge. Can we agree that giving the judge the finger when he is deciding if you should go to jail and for how long you should go for is not a good idea? In fact, don't wear a t-shirt. If you have no other options choose one without a print on it--plain is good. This isn't a time for you to be making a statement on the system or show everyone else there what a cool band you like. Ask yourself what you are wearing says about you; what message do you convey. Dress as nicely as you are able. Do not wear a tuxedo. I have seen this, a tux doesn't help. It is also harder to get off as they process you on your way to jail. Do wear a dress shirt and khakis if possible. You do not have to dress to the nines where I practice but a good bet is to check out what the attorneys are wearing and go one level down on the dressiness scale. You may not need a blazer or sport-jacket but a tie never hurt. I suspect that Judges like to know that you know how to tie a tie. Remember, whether you have a tie or not isn't going to utterly change the playing field. If you are a jerk it won't shield you from observation that you are, in fact, a jerk. Little things add up, however. Appearing well put together can't hurt. You want to look like a docile worker bee: docile worker bees contribute to society and stay out of trouble. Remember, this is the time you want to be a conformist, conform. If you have doubt about the practice in your area remember to ask you lawyer.
When People Start Talking
The Judge will recite the case information and then ask the lawyers to speak.
The prosecutor will say his peace first. It may be unflattering or a misrepresentation or even worse, untrue. It may make you angry. Don't let it show. It is the prosecutor's job to say awful things about you and he may actually believe them. Listen to the arguments the prosecutor is making and think about how to handle them. That does not mean argue with them. You are accepting accountability, remember; arguing that the prosecutor is wrong about you or what you admitted to doing won't get you far. Rather, remember that you have admitted guilt and the prosecutor may be justified in running you down. You might even want to agree with him when you get a chance to talk. You could agree and then you throw in a "but." If it is true (more on that in a moment) you can say things like you have learned from your mistakes, are on the road to reforming your actions, working on improving and being a contributor to society remember and that you are sorry for all of the terrible things your actions lead to. State what you have done in the mean time to get better. Tell the judge that you are willing to follow the court's or probation's directives and rules. It will be difficult but you are up to the task.
Your lawyer is going to say nice things about you; we get paid to. The judge knows this. The judge will be listening carefully for signs of BS. The best lawyers BS without the court realizing it. The court knows this too. The bottom line: the judge is going to take your attorney's arguments with a grain of salt. The judge knows the real story is going to come from you. In the end it is up to you to keep your ass out of the fire. Listen to your attorney, look for the judge's response and adjust accordingly. Pick up on your lawyer's themes if possible and use it to your advantage.
Your Make or Break Moment
Be yourself. Well, at least be the best version of yourself. If you are not good at public speaking, say so. If you are nervous, admit it (you will be). You don't do this every day, at least I hope not, so you have some leeway. You are vulnerable, don't hide it; judges like to know they are reaching you with their wisdom.
Do not lie. Do not minimize your actions. Do not make excuses--you must apologize and accept responsibility. You will not be well served by your attempts to weasel out of it. Answer direct questions directly.
Keep your emotions in check. You can handle this. Anger is your enemy. Remorse is your friend, but in moderation. Woeful tears of anguish copiously flowing forth in a never ending stream of guttural muffled sobs rarely works to stay the hand of justice. If you are going to cry, cry, but don't make a production out of it. You are not up for an Oscar. The key to shedding tears is that they are authentic and heartfelt. Fake ones won't fly.
The judge may ask you about when your last use of alcohol or drugs was. Be honest. If it was learn this here now recently you must acknowledge your relapse and speak about moving forward with treatment and what you have done about it.
Be consistent, if you tell the interviewer at probation one thing don't say something different or backtrack at sentencing. Own your past. If you have been revoked on probation before don't hide from that--its in the PSI report. Tell the court why things are different now.
The judge may ream you out. After all, you plead guilty because you are, in fact, guilty I presume, and you are likely guilty of some pretty nasty things. You likely deserve a scolding and a stern warning to change your ways. Accept it, it is what it is. Once again, don't argue, acknowledge your failures. Don't make excuses, don't debate, don't minimize, don't blame other people. Whatever you do Do Not Blame The Victim.
Children in Court
Don't bring your kids to court. They will be miserable, fidgety, inappropriate and unruly (even the good ones). More importantly, in the end, they may be traumatized if things don't go your way.
Judges can be temperamental. It may have to do with having to put up with this crud all day. You don't want to annoy the person making the call on your freedom. You don't want to agitate, excite, or irritate a judge. You don't poke a judge with a stick. Your sobbing child is a very sharp stick.
Not only can children be disruptive, through no fault of their own, worse, the court may view this as a bald faced attempt to manipulate. When you bring your kids, whether you mean to or not, you are saying "don't put me in jail because of my kids." This is a legitimate argument but it is not a great idea to make it by holding your crying child on your hip at the bench. It can look like you are using the child as a pawn. The court may think that you are trying to make him or her guilty for sentencing you as you ought to be. Don't make the judge feel guilty for doing her job. You will find the judge will resent this and respond accordingly. In the event you have no one with you to take the child after you are taken into custody the court will cite your irresponsibility, lack of foresight, cruelty to your child for having to make them watch you get carted off in handcuffs and other nasty things. Next, the clerk may call social services to come pick up the kid because there is no one else around to take care of the child. While you are getting used to your new home you may receive a letter from Child Protective Services that your actions are being investigated. This is one way to define a bad day.
If you are going to argue that your kids need you don't be surprised when the court responds that you should have thought about that before you committed the crime. Be ready for this line of reasoning. You may want to think about saying that you failed them but you are devoted to learning from that so you can be a better parent and you want the chance to do that.
This Is Not A Party
Lastly, and perhaps it goes without saying, but must be said based on experience: do not show up under the influence. Don't show up drunk or stoned. I know it can be difficult when one is under stress and has an addiction but now is not the time to let it get the upper hand. It is the absolute worst time to let the happen. Do not let it. The court officers will tell the judge you are a mess, that you smell of weed or alcohol, that you passed out in the waiting area, etc. You need your wits about you to get through this and being stoned at court leaves a bad impression. This goes for any court appearance. If the case isn't settled yet it is a surefire way to get your bail revoked and sent to the county jail pending further proceedings. At sentencing it is a one way ticket to the maximum sentence allowed by law.
A further admonition: please don't have a going away bash the night before. A hangover is an awful way to start a jail sentence and if you oversleep because of your overindulgence the sheriff will be more than happy to roust you from your slumber. Meanwhile, the judge, who has been twiddling her thumbs for the last two hours, has been put into a sour mood. That does not improve your odds.