Attending a Criminal Court Proceeding
An Animal Rights Article from


Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)
February 2010

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 exceptions.
  • 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 consistent.
  • 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 whole community.


  • 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 court date.
  • 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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