YOUR GUIDE TO COURT

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Your guide to court.

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It is always better to be represented by an attorney in court. If you cannot afford an attorney you may check with your local legal services providers to see if you qualify for free legal help. In certain contempt cases, the court may be able to appoint the public defenders office to represent you. If you absolutely cannot get a lawyer, this presentation will tell you some things you need to know.

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There are some things you need to know if you must go to court on your own without a lawyer. You need to know some basic things about what to do at the courthouse, in the courtroom, and during your court hearing or trial.

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This presentation gives you an overview of some things you need to know before going to court. Here are some simple steps to help you understand more about how to represent yourself in court. This presentation is about rules of conduct in the courthouse and some other practical things. This presentation does not provide legal advice or teach you about the law. It does not tell you how to prepare your case or how to present your case in court. You will learn these things: What to wear and what not to wear. What to bring with you and what to leave at home. How to speak and behave in court. What to expect in general on your day in court.

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Many of the things you will learn during the next few minutes will strike you as plain common sense. Even so, remember that you must follow these steps to avoid problems at court. Thank you for taking time to watch and listen to this presentation. Let’s get started. You must go in the right direction

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We will talk about a few things you need to do ahead of time, before your court date. Taking care of these things before court may help you avoid problems on the day of your court case. Get ready for court!

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When you receive the notice of your court date, take some time to determine if you will be prepared to present your evidence on that date.

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If you need more time to get ready, you can file a court paper called a motion for continuance to explain why you need more time. That is how you let the judge and the other side know that you need more time. The judge does not have to give you more time and the judge can deny the continuance.

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Do you need a sign language or foreign language interpreter? If so, let the court know at least 15 days before your court date. Call the court to let the staff know about this issue and to find out if you need to take more steps to get an interpreter. Do you have trouble hearing or do you have another medical issue that makes it difficult for you to get around the courtroom or hear or see what is going on? Make sure you tell the court staff about your issue before your court hearing or trial starts.

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Gather your important papers about the case ahead of time, and remember to bring them with you to court. If you want the court to see your papers, bring a copy for the judge and a copy for the other side.

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If you have any witnesses it is your responsibility to get them to court. If the witness will not show up on his or her own, you may check with the clerk’s office to find out about getting the court to send that person a paper called a “subpoena.”

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Do not bring your children with you unless you have no other choice. Make plans for child care ahead of time.

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Now you will learn about a few things to do on the day of your trial or hearing. Things to do on the day you go to court!

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Get to the courthouse early. Remember to leave extra time to go through security. Leave extra time to find the correct courtroom for your hearing or trial.

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If you get sick or have another issue that will make you late or prevent you from going to court on the day of your hearing or trial, call the judge’s office ahead of time and explain the problem. If you do not call, the judge may hear your case without you or dismiss (throw out) your case. Also, if you are served for court and you do not appear, the judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest.

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Calling the judge’s office does not excuse you for being late and does not excuse you for not showing up for court. Even if you do call ahead of time, this does not mean that the judge will delay your case or give you a new trial or hearing date. The judge will decide what to do.

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Your day in court is important and serious. Dress in a way that shows respect for yourself, for others, for your case, the truth, and for the court. Take a second look in the mirror before you leave home. Are you sure that you look like the kind of person who tells the truth? The judge and jury will consider your case and determine which side has presented the truth.

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Here are some simple rules of thumb. Wear long pants or a dress. Wear shoes. Wear a shirt with a collar. Wear pants at the hip. Wear a belt to prevent sagging. Remember there will be people behind you when you bend over to sign your subpoena.

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No shower shoes. No shorts.

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Do not wear items with slogans or advertisements. No gang symbols.

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Do not wear “political cause” buttons or clothing with vulgar things (including “curse” words). NO @#$%! NO SLOGANS! NO BAD WORDS!

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Do not wear sunglasses or hats inside the courthouse.

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When you enter the building you must go through security. If your phone has a camera, or if it can make audio recordings you may not be able to bring it in the courthouse.

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It’s against the law to bring weapons to court. That means no guns, knives, or pepper spray.

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You may not bring food, drinks, gum, or tobacco past security.

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Make sure you turn off your cell phone when you get to the courthouse. If you do not turn off your cell phone, the bailiff may take it away from you for the day, or longer.

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Recording or taking pictures in court is not allowed.

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Now that you have arrived at the courthouse, here are some things to keep in mind when you are there.

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To avoid problems, act correctly everywhere in the courthouse. Do not threaten anyone, confront anyone, or argue with anyone in the hallways and restrooms. When you are finished for the day leave the courtroom and courthouse peacefully.

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Here are some things you must keep in mind when you are in the courtroom for your case.

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When your case is called, come forward and stand in front of the microphone, if there is one. Ask the judge’s permission before you walk up to the bench (the place where the judge sits) or before you walk near the witness stand.

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Be polite to everyone in the courthouse and in the courtroom. Showing anger or hostility will not help your case. Do not curse, use vulgar gestures, or call people insulting names. ..

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Here’s what you can and cannot do while your trial or hearing is going on. Stand whenever you say something to the judge in court. Speak up so that everyone can hear you. Speak only to the judge. Question a witness only when it is your turn to ask questions of that witness. Do not make comments to people on the other side of the case or to anyone else in the courtroom.

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Do not interrupt anyone or argue with others. Do not interrupt the judge. Everyone gets a turn to speak and to question witnesses. You will have your turn to present your side of the case. You will have your turn to ask questions of (examine) your own witnesses. You will have your turn to ask questions of (cross-examine) the other side’s witnesses. If you have a valid legal objection to what is being said or presented you may stand and let the judge know.

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When a witness is talking do not make gestures, do not make noises, and do not shake or nod your head. Do not “coach” your witnesses or tell them what to say. Do not speak over the other party – the court reporter needs to hear you and take down your information.  The court reporter will not be able to take down the notes accurately if you speak over some one else. Do not chew gum. The court reporter cannot understand you if you talk while chewing gum.

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Before you testify, you must swear or affirm to the court that you will tell the truth. The truth is an accurate description of reality. Failure to tell the truth could cause the court to take action against you.

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Answer only the question that is asked. Do not ramble, do not stray from the point, do not make offensive comments about anyone.

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The judge will let you know when the hearing or trial is over for that day. Do not leave the courtroom until the court is done with your case and the judge excuses you.

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Here are some simple things to keep in mind about what you can and can’t do outside the courtroom. The judge is not allowed to talk with you about the case outside the courtroom unless all of the parties are there (meaning people on all sides of the case). Do not try to talk with the judge or have anyone else talk to the judge for you outside the courtroom.

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We hope that the steps you just learned about will help you. These are not suggestions. These are rules to make sure that people who go to court act in a way that is peaceful, fair, dignified and respectful.

Thank you for viewing this presentation. This presentation was created by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in cooperation with the Self-Represented Litigant Committee of the Louisiana District Judges Association and the Access to Justice Program of the Louisiana State Bar Association. Find more resources on www.ldja.org. :

Thank you for viewing this presentation. This presentation was created by Southeast Louisiana Legal Services in cooperation with the Self-Represented Litigant Committee of the Louisiana District Judges Association and the Access to Justice Program of the Louisiana State Bar Association. Find more resources on www.ldja.org .

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