Does the thought of going to court stress you out? Answering the following questions can help you be better prepared.
There are four reasons people go to court:
- You’re a party to a civil lawsuit. If you filed the lawsuit, you’re the plaintiff. If you’re being sued, you’re the defendant.
- You received a traffic citation or are a defendant in a criminal case.
- You’re a witness.
- You’ve been summoned for jury duty.
Hoapili Hale/Wailuku Courthouse (photo credit: Hawaii State Judiciary)
Why you’re going to court determines how you need to prepare.
- If you’re involved in a lawsuit, bring evidence to support your side. That includes documents, receipts, bills, photographs, a timeline, and witnesses to help the court reach a decision.
- If you’re a defendant in a criminal matter, make sure you understand the charge against you. Crimes range from petty misdemeanors to felonies, which are the more serious criminal charges. And if you can’t afford an attorney, the Office of the Public Defender can represent you.
- If you’re a witness, you must appear or the judge could issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you were subpoenaed.
- If you’re a juror, bring a sweater or jacket. The courtrooms are cold and they’re kept cold for a reason. In one of my trials, the jurors requested the courtroom be made warmer. I agreed but informed them that if anyone nodded off, the courtroom would get colder. Right after lunch, one of the jurors dozed off.
- Be prepared to wait. Judges and attorneys are trying to settle the civil case or work out a plea agreement in a criminal case before selecting the jury. And yes, apologies in advance, the benches are hard and uncomfortable.
Kauikeaouli Hale/Honolulu District Court (photo credit: Hawaii State Judiciary)
Make sure you know the date and time of your court appearance. It may be possible to reschedule a court date, but it’s important to contact the court as soon as possible.
The state court system consists of a number of courts on different islands and in different towns. The courts where most people appear are:
- Small claims
Keahuolu Courthouse (photo credit: AHL & Andrea Brizzi Photography)
Help is available
To assist people who don't have an attorney, several self-help centers are available for support. During the pandemic, volunteer attorneys provide free telephone consultation on landlord-tenant, collection, and temporary restraining order matters. Statewide, over 30,000 people have been assisted since the creation of these centers in October 2011 and the need continues to increase
Leslie A. Hayashi was a trial judge in Hawaii for 25 years. She serves on The National Judicial College Board of Trustees and taught at the college for 20 years.