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What Are the Rules on Cell Phone Use in Court?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

There are a lot of rules out there for cell phone use, but what are the rules for using cell phones in court?

Even though you can now cell phones (in "airplane" mode) when you fly, some courts have more stringent rules and may even prohibit cell phones altogether. In one notable case, a lady whose cell phone rang loudly during a trial was held in contempt of court -- though that was later overturned on appeal.

So can you use a cell phone in court? Here are some general pointers:

If You're a Litigant...

Litigants appearing before the court should be especially careful about using a cell phone in court. You'll definitely want to know the court's cell phone policy before you start texting your friends about how nervous you are.

Some courts have very strict rules when it comes to cell phone use, particularly federal courts. For example, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prohibits cameras, cell phones, and any recording device inside of the courtroom unless it's authorized by a judge.


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Plus, if you're a party in the case, you'll make a bad impression on the judge if your phone goes off in the middle of the hearing.

If You're an Observer...

Most court proceedings are open to the public, so people can sit in on a trial or hearing whenever they want. However, even if you're not on trial, you still need to follow the court's rules when it comes to cell phones.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, observers aren't allowed to bring cell phones into the court chamber -- though someone somehow managed to slip one past security last fall.

Even in a popular New York City night court that's become a tourist attraction, courtroom etiquette must be followed. So even if you're allowed to bring your cell phone into court, only use it for emergencies (take your conversations into the hallway!), turn your phone off, or keep it on silent.

If You're a Juror...

Special rules apply to jurors. Since a jury is performing a civic duty that determines the outcome of a case, jurors are prohibited from talking about the case with other people. Some courts explicitly prohibit cell phones in the Jury Assembly Room in order to prevent information about the case from leaking out, but they may allow phones during trial as long as they're turned off or not causing a disturbance.

So if you're attending court, be sure to check your local court's rules on cell phone use before you get in trouble.

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