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Dressing properly for court often makes a difference

BY ANDREA MOORE amoore@paducahsun.com

Most defendants rely on the principle of innocent until proven guilty when they appear in court to face a criminal charge.

But some local lawyers say the presumption of innocence can be put in jeopardy if their clients are not dressed appropriately.

"You do not want your clients in a jumpsuit when they are getting ready to go to trial," said Jeremy Ian Smith, a Paducah defense lawyer. "Some defendants may have physical features that are imposing to a jury, but in the right clothing those features become less imposing."

Smith advises his clients to tuck in their shirts, and he often suggests what type of clothing to wear.  

He believes that in addition to making a favorable impression with the jury, being dressed appropriately shows respect to the court.  

"The judge is in control of the courtroom, and being dressed appropriately shows that you respect the process," he said.

Cheri Riedel, a public defender in Murray, noted that some defendants are too poor to afford the right clothing or do not have access to it. 

"Very rarely does a client who is incarcerated have someone on the outside provide something appropriate for court," Riedel said.   

That's why the Murray public defender office started a clothes closet that provides appropriate clothing for clients to wear in court. Riedel and other lawyers go to local consignment stores and look for items to put in the closet. They also receive donations from consignment stores.   

"At this office, pretty much any time an incarcerated client goes to trial, we use the clothes closet," Riedel said.    

McCracken County Circuit Court Judge Tim Kaltenbach acknowledges that some defendants come into court dressed inappropriately.

"At this time I do not enforce a dress code in court," Kaltenbach said. "But court is a formal process, and litigants should show respect to the court."

Kaltenbach said his responsibilities include the local drug court program, which has a dress code that is enforced.

"The other day, the participants showed up in ties to court," Kaltenbach said. "It was really nice that they showed respect and treated it as the formal occasion that it is."

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