Attending a Criminal Court Proceeding
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Attending court proceedings for criminal animal abuse cases is a great
way to demonstrate that your community cares about animal protection and
expects zero tolerance for animal cruelty. While the slow-churning wheels of
the legal system can be frustrating, a persevering group of concerned
community members can make a difference. Here are some general guidelines
for you and your fellow animal activists to ensure that your presence is an
aid to the prosecution and not a hindrance.
- Be respectful of the Court and its rules at all times – no
- Politely inform the prosecutor’s office, in advance, of your
intention to attend court proceedings as a group.
- Listen to and abide by any advice that the prosecutor’s office
offers as to courtroom attendance.
- The day before you go, confirm the court dates and times with the
Clerk of Court as they are subject to, and very likely to, change.
- Create a specific email address list for announcing /updating court
dates and times to your group – make the email subject lines clear and
- Wear common-colored shirts, buttons, or badges (not hats) to
identify yourselves as a united group. Be as well-groomed as possible.
- Expect delays. Depending on the Court’s docket, it may make sense to
split up and do some outreach activities outside the courthouse via
signage and educational materials while the rest of you wait for other
cases to finish before yours. However, the situation may well call for
sitting quietly with books, so be prepared.
- Thank the prosecutors for their work to date and be respectful of
their very real time constraints.
- Inform the media of your intention to attend court proceedings as a
group. Put them on your date/time email list, or assign someone in your
group to remind them of upcoming dates and times. While the media won’t
necessarily cover each court hearing, they may still check in with one
of you for a story/case update.
- Have a concise, consistent message to present to the media should
you be asked for a quote or interview—thinking out your major talking
points ahead of time will help make sure you get your message out when
the opportunity arises. Speak on the type of cruelty involved in the
case at hand, and then point out that the case is but one example of
that particular cruelty issue and explain how that issue affects the
- Don’t be surprised by “non-events.” It’s just a reality – a court
hearing can be a 3-minute affair that results in nothing more than a new
- Don’t bring signs into the courtroom. Leave them in the hallway,
outside, or in your car.
- Don’t get caught up in disruptions and rudeness - they are not
productive in a courtroom setting. While emotions inevitably run high in
animal cruelty cases, volatile outbursts will not accomplish justice,
and may well result in media coverage that is sympathetic to the defense
team. Worse yet, unacceptable behavior could get you and your group
banned from the courtroom or even charged with contempt of court!
- Don’t be unrealistic. While they are elected officials and it is
their job to serve the public, it is unrealistic to expect prosecutors
to stop in the middle of their schedule to “recap the day’s events” and
host a Q&A for your group. Do not impede their movement at the
courthouse – they truly are on a tight schedule.
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