What Not to Wear . . . If You’re a Juror

We’ve already covered lawyer attire on the blog. In fact, that post is one of the most popular we’ve ever had. A recent story has brought juror attire to the fore.

According to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, a federal court in Florida sent two prospective jurors home for violating the court’s dress code. The defendants in the case were convicted of mortgage fraud. They now claim that the exclusion of the jurors violated the defendants’ right to a jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community. They argue that some individuals may not be able to afford to comply with the dress code, while others may choose to dress outside the code according to the “accepted fashion norms of a racial minority.”

The dress code in question states that “[p]roper attire includes coat and tie for men and similarly appropriate attire for women. No jeans, polo shirts or sneakers.” I did a few minutes of research, and didn’t find another court with such a strict dress code. My impression is that seeing a juror in a coat and tie is like spotting a black bear: not totally unheard of, but definitely not an everyday occurrence.

Here in North Carolina, the Administrative Office of the Courts provides some general guidance for jurors: “You should dress comfortably, but not too casually. Dress for court as if you were going to work or to church. Many judges do not allow anyone to come to court wearing halter or tank tops, cut off jeans, or shirts with offensive wording. Remember you will be acting as part of the court while serving as jurors, so dress appropriately.” In Forsyth County, the clerk’s office recommends “[b]usiness casual.” In Mecklenburg County, “[c]asual business attire” is expected, and shorts, tank tops, flip flops, and bare midriffs are forbidden. The federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina has “no formal dress code,” but asks jurors to bear in mind that “court is a solemn and dignified place.”

In some urban areas, expectations may be more relaxed. For example, the District of Columbia courts “respect individual style and fashion trends,” and expressly prohibit only “gang paraphernalia and insignia; exposed undergarments; clothing with words, depictions, or messages that are intimidating or obscene; clothing with sexual or drug references; and sheer, see through, or provocative clothing.”

There aren’t many cases on juror dress codes. The only in-state case I could find supports a trial judge’s authority to impose reasonable standards for attire. In State v. Brooks, 205 N.C. App. 321 (2010) (unpublished), a superior court judge deferred from jury service all prospective jurors wearing shorts or tank tops. The court of appeals ruled that this was a proper exercise of “the judge’s authority to control her courtroom.” The case didn’t explore the limits of that authority, and I wonder whether a judge who sought to ban tennis shoes and polo shirts, for example, would find support in the appellate division.

Please share your stories about the practice out there. What will get a prospective juror turned away? What’s the least appropriate outfit a juror or prospective juror has worn to court?