Massachusetts Criminal Defendants Should Dress for Success in Court

This post isn’t titled “Mr. Kickham’s Best-Dressed list,” but here goes anyway: I’m sure you have all seen the images, out on public streets, and in social media. What am I talking about? Young men, wearing their pants so low that their underwear is completely exposed, their belt is to their knees, and they wind up stepping on their pants legs, which are bunched down at their shoes. It drives me bonkers.

This style of dressing is anything but dignified, anything but admirable, anything but mature, and anything but flattering. It inspires descriptions of “moron”, “loser,” “idiot,” “uneducated,” and “unsophisticated.” It’s pathetic and laughable. So, as a Boston, Massachusetts sex offenses lawyer, I am constantly shocked when I see young men appearing in a court of law dressed the same way. I don’t allow it with my younger clients. I require my clients to dress respectably and as adults when they are in court. Period. By no means do the clothes need to be expensive; by no means do they need to be “fashion-forward” – at all. But I will not allow my clients to appear by my side in front of a judge, looking like they are wearing pajamas. and most of them do. What I’m discussing here are the many clueless other young male defendants that I see in courthouses all over eastern Massachusetts.

“What are these kids thinking?,” I constantly ask myself. Do they really think that they are putting their best foot forward? Don’t they realize that they are essentially putting a “bad cover” on what judges and juries may interpret as a “bad book? Each of them looks like an idiot, like a complete malcontent. Worse, I ask myself what their lawyers are thinking, in allowing their clients to appear in court like this. Dressing that way is tantamount to wearing a sign that says, “I’m screwed up; I don’t know how to conduct myself or present myself appropriately; I don’t respect authority, and I don’t respect this court.” They may as well display an obscene gesture to the judge. Yet, stunningly to me, even though I see the frowns on some judge’s facial expressions when these defendants come before them, too few say anything. The reason? They’re just too busy trying to get the business of a crowded court docket, completed. On any given day, most District Courts in Massachusetts are packed full of criminal cases and criminal defendants, together with civil cases, and most judges just want to move things along as efficiently as possible.

It’s unfortunate, because dignity and respectability are forced to take a back seat to efficiency. In my view as a Boston criminal defense lawyer, the the dignity of the courts suffer as a result.

Despite what some people might want to think, appearances count, especially in a formal courtroom, where every little thing is counted and judged. It’s a fact – it’s not always the actual testimony that assists judges and juries in their decision-making. I always tell my clients: Look your best. If you’re a man, wear a suit and tie. If you’re a woman, wear a dress with understated makeup. Dress conservatively – as though you are going to a business meeting. Polish your shoes. Look like an outstanding citizen. Groom yourself. First impressions count. When a criminal defendant walks into the theater of the courtroom, the judge and jury will not be impressed if his (or her) pants are down to their knees.

It boils down to this: The way you dress has a huge influence on everyone’s perception of you in a courtroom. And how you are perceived has a huge impact on your results – guilty or innocent. Furthermore, the court deserves the respect of those who appear before it. Remember, you are not going to a Red Sox game. You are making an appearance before a judge, and sometimes a jury, who will have an impact on your future. In fact, a few years ago the American Bar Association conducted a survey to determine the amount of time it took jury members, to make a decision on the guilt or innocence of a defendant accused of a crime. The astonishing result? Less than 10 minutes. Let me say that again. It just took them a mere 10 minutes to make a decision about the fate of an accused party’s life. Dressing the right way just might offer you an edge. Make sure to take it.

To paraphrase an old joke, don’t dress like the proverbial ax murderer. Instead, dress like a winner.