How do I present my best to the court, virtually?
“Opportunities Come Gift Wrapped in Problems”
That is one of Reynolds Defense Firm’s core beliefs. And, COVID-19 proved that to be true. The pandemic has completely flipped our world upside down, and sadly, it has negatively impacted a lot of people. Even still, there are some undeniably positive outcomes, too. The biggest opportunity to emerge is the countless ways people and businesses started using technology to connect and grow in ways they never did before.
Family members from different parts of the world are now having virtual dinners together. Friends from across the globe now enjoy happy hour with each other on a regular basis. Gyms and trainers now offer virtual sessions, capturing people who don’t always have time to work out during business hours. Educational programs and art classes are now more accessible, virtually, and more medical offices are offering video appointments. Some business were even able to create entirely remote processes, no longer limiting their employees to local residents, which is great for job-seekers down the road.
And these opportunities were not lost on the criminal justice system. The courts are open to creative solutions now more than ever, like video hearings and virtual treatment classes. With this, however, it’s important to note that even though these virtual hearings take place from the comfort of your own home, the court still expects you to be professional and respectful. That is why we have put together a guide to virtual hearings, with tips and tricks to make sure you present your best self to the court, virtually.
Make sure that you are in a quiet place with a strong wifi connection. If possible, try and use a desktop or laptop computer. For virtual court, you will need a working webcam and audio.
2. Smile, you’re on camera
Virtual court means that you are on video. Not only are you on the appearance with your attorney, but the Judge, prosecutor, and court clerk will also see you.
3. Make sure they can see you
The room should be well lit. Make sure that you have enough light and keep in mind that too much natural sunlight can cause a glare.
4. Sit still
Try and sit in one place with your device on a level surface in front of you, and angle your camera so that your entire face is visible. This does mean that you are so close to the camera that all we see is your face! Consider when you were taking a class portrait for school with your upper body and shoulders in the shot – that’s the perfect way to present.
5. Your background
Your background should be as neutral as possible. Although a neon alien poster in the background won’t necessarily undo your proceeding, it’s important to keep in mind that anything you visually put in front of the Judge can impact how you are perceived. Opt for neutral colored backgrounds, and if possible, an empty wall, neutral portraits or photographs or a bookcase etc.
Dress for this appearance exactly as you would for court. While you can probably get away with wearing pajama bottoms, we don’t recommend it – just in case you suddenly need to stand up during the hearing. You never know.
7. Find a quiet place
Make sure that nobody else will be making noise or walking behind you in the background. This includes pets!
8. Your device
If you’re using a laptop, make sure that it is sufficiently charged or plugged in to a power source.
Have a copy of your plea documents in front of you in case the Judge has questions about specific portions. Some Judges reference particular parts of your plea documents to ensure you’ve reviewed the documents before signing them. And remember that the Judge can see you and will know if you are in fact referencing the documents.
10. Speaking clearly
Speak clearly so that everything you say will be caught in the recording and become part of the audio “court record.”
11. Don’t interrupt
Sometimes you are on a docket with other people who are also resolving their cases. If your case is not the one being currently handled by the Judge, try to mute your microphone so no sounds or white noise from your end interfere with the audio. It is also ok to mute your webcam until your case is called so that you are not visually on screen during somebody else’s case.
Keep in mind that when you are on virtual court, that you will NOT be able to speak with your attorney privately. Make sure to ask all of your questions during the pre-court telephone call with your attorney.
There may be a “chat” function in the virtual court system. This chat box is NOT private or subject to attorney-client privilege. Do not type out questions or comments to your attorney in this box. Anybody on the call, including the prosecutor, will see what you type here.
14. After court follow up
Your attorney will also follow up with you after the hearing with a separate telephone call to ensure that everything came through clearly and to walk through your next steps. After court, check your email for the signed Judge’s Order and referral paperwork from the court. This will often include your deadlines as well as the specific conditions of your diversion or probation. Note that some courts are delayed in uploading the signed paperwork, so this could take several days.
15. Be prepared
Ultimately, different court systems are moving forward with these procedures in different ways. Make sure that, going into your virtual court appearance, that you have spoken with your attorney or legal assistant about any technological issues you may be having or questions that arise.