"Is this a court of law or a beauty contest, Your Honor?"
Forget about wearing baggy pants, flip-flops and skimpy tops to court if the thought has crossed your mind. Increasingly, judges are demanding anyone who has a date with the law must dress “appropriately,” and what defendants wear to their trials can and will be used against them.
“We’re not out to treat people as school kids, but we do expect if you come to court, you need to treat it with the appropriate respect and dignity it should deserve due to the occasion,” Delaware Superior Court Judge William Witham Jr. told USA Today. His courtroom and others across the state prohibit women from wearing skirts that fall shorter than 4 inches above the knee when standing.
Show-up on your trial date wearing inappropriate clothing and you will miss your court date and be slapped with a penalty for failing to appear. While some legal advocates claim that policy is unfair, perhaps taking the safe route and wearing a suit or dress would serve defendants’ best interests.
Holly Alford, an assistant professor in the department of fashion design and merchandising at Virginia Commonwealth University, noted that judges who prohibit defendants from wearing “saggy pants” that expose their underwear are silently being discriminated against by judges because that trend is popular among blacks. “[It’s] almost like you’re making racial statements without actually saying it.”
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says female Muslim defendants are at risk of discrimination, too. “There should be no issue for anyone entering a court with either a face veil or a head scarf,” he said.
Then, there are the idiots who are either expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech or just trying to send a message to judges and juries by wearing clothing that sends a message:
• In May, Jennifer LaPenta was jailed briefly after a judge in Lake County, Ill., held her in contempt for wearing an offensive T-shirt to court.
• In Inkster, Mich., Joseph Kassab was turned away in April from the courtroom for wearing black jeans. He missed his traffic court appearance and was fined, and he’s challenging the dress code in the state Court of Appeals.
• The same thing happened to Linda West, who missed her court date after being refused entry in June to court in Bakersfield, Calif., for wearing flip-flops.
• In July, in Hamilton County (Ohio) Municipal Court, William Morse’s T-shirt featuring slasher-movie character Chucky and the words “Say goodbye to the killer” earned Morse a warning that he’d spend a day in jail if he came to court again with inappropriate attire.
Do you believe judges should determine the appropriateness of defendants’ wardrobes? Can defendants wearing questionable attire receive fair trials? Should the First Amendment protect defendants’ rights to wearing whatever they determine appropriate for court appearances? Sound-off below on these issues and whatever else comes to mind.