You thought you put your cell phone on silent – but then it happens. RING! RING! In a movie theater, this error would garner you a lot of dirty looks, at least. But, in court, a ringing cell phone could mean contempt of court with “state-sponsored accommodations” for the evening or a monetary fine.
But how do you know if you can even use (that includes texting) a silenced phone while in the courtroom?
Before the docket is called, the Bailiff (the court officer) will advise those entering the courtroom if they are properly dressed (hats or sunglasses removed, low hanging pants held up, etc.) The Bailiff may, depending on the court’s rules, may also advise you to end your call or turn off your cell phone. Or, there may be a sign prominently displayed on the courtroom door.
In Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, the local court rules are also posted online. These rules require “noise generating devices” to be turned off in court or during the taking of a deposition. The Davidson County General Sessions Court doesn’t have this prohibition – yet.
It is always a good idea to check local rules and follow any instructions of the Bailiff or posted signs. If you do not, it could be considered “criminal contempt” which is punishable by jail time or a fine. Yes, you could spend some time in jail for not turning off your phone. That’s a far steeper fine than just dirty looks.
When in court, play it safe and turn off your phone. A few missed calls or texts will be worth it. After all, you planned to be in court only a few hours…. not overnight.