Stupid (and smart) Courtroom Tricks – the bad, the ugly and the aggressively stupid….

For your amusement, I offer the following observations from my years of experience in court.   All occurred in open court; none of this material is confidential.

1)  The winner of winners was the defendant who showed up in District Court in Essex (Baltimore County) wearing – I kid you not – a Budweiser T-Shirt to his DWI trial.  This was early in my career and I had to make a double-take to confirm that he was the defendant, not a witness, not a plain-clothes officer but the actual defendant.  He was actually represented by legal counsel in that case, a private attorney.  Any shirt, arguably even a shirt quoting rap group NWA’s most infamous and vulgar single hit (WARNING: offensive and not safe for work), would have been better. I felt embarrassed, and was glad that my client that day had acquired her tasteful courtroom attire at Ann Taylor’s or the like.

2)  Don’t get caught driving while revoked from a trial date for driving while revoked.  Yes, an officer sat out in the parking lot and lay in wait, and got a second bite at the revoked driver.  This occurred at Wabash Avenue in NW Baltimore City, perhaps 250 yards from a Metro station and an easy location from which to get a cab pickup.

3)  When you are in 19 years old, wear a nose ring and are in traffic court and you get a disposition you don’t like, don’t crumple up your disposition sheet, throw it on the ground and walk out in a huff.  The judge will make you sit in court while you cool off until the end of the docket and then lecture you, while the elderly bailiff just HOPES you will give him lawful cause to clock your jaw once hard.

4)  Don’t wear a T-Shirt to traffic court that makes fun of the police for their alleged habits of eating donuts.  (If police sometimes patronize donut shops, it’s because they work crazy hours, they need coffee to stay awake and nothing else is open – same reason I hit them when I have early court.)  Besides, the officer who cited the motorist in Catonsville was clearly NOT hanging out in a donut shop, but was on patrol – pulling over motorists!  This motorist could have picked some dirty shirt out of her hamper, but unfortunately did not do so.

5)  There is such a think as “too drunk to refuse a breathalyzer.”  No joke; if you are too far gone, you lack the mental capacity to refuse and should not be sanctioned for refusing something for which you were too gone to understand the offer.

6)  A bad answer when you are just out of rehab for drug abuse and a judge asks how it’s going is “staying clean is easy.”  A good answer is “Your Honor I really feel like using right this minute rather than talking to you, no disrespect, but am working hard to stay clean anyway with the help of my sponsor and the program.”  This answer really made a powerful impression on a judge some years ago in Prince George’s County and helped my client get the benefit of the doubt on a motion to modify his sentence down.  Judges hear so many lies that when they hear the truth – that a recently clean addict under courtroom stress actually feels like using some dope right there in the courtroom – they may feel compelled to show it some respect.

7)  Try not to come to court for your case looking like a captain for Tony Soprano.  I had a civil jury trial involving a painful business dispute.  My opposing party – ably represented by an attorney I respect greatly – came to court with a leather jacket and hairstyle that just screamed “crime syndicate.”  My client did not have that problem.  My opponent had some facts and some law on his side, though not all; it was a five-day hard-fought trial.  When the verdict came down on our side for all counts but one, and a tiny verdict against us for that one final count, my opponent was stunned.  He went to the jurors after the trial (which is permitted in Maryland) and inquired; they told him that they liked him but that his client was a “dirtball,” direct quote.

Other lawyers probably have much better war stories than these but I hope that these bring you some modest amusement.

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