Visit a Courthouse
by Allison Leotta
Are you writing a crime story? Go visit a courthouse!
Trials are free and open to the public. And they can provide a wealth of information for novelists. You can go to watch a specific trial, or simply visit on any given day and poke your head into a bunch of different courtrooms. It’s your right as a citizen to be able to sit down in the spectator section and watch for as long as you’d like.
Each courtroom will have its own ambiance. Some courtrooms are cattle calls of dozens of misdemeanor cases, while others may be holding a major homicide trial or a multi-defendant racketeering case. The federal courthouse (big courtrooms, quiet hallways, $1000 briefcases) will feel very different than your local courthouse (crowded lobby, peeling formica, scuffed shoes).
You’ll get a sense for how lawyers ask questions, how witnesses answer, and how each courtroom feels. You might see families arguing in the corridors, prosecutors having last-minute witness conferences, clients huddling with their lawyers. Take in the sights and the smells.
And chat with people while you’re there; strike up conversations. The guards who work the x-ray machines, for example, can be a treasury of what’s going on in the courthouse. Or just talk to the lady sitting next to you. You might be amazed at the stories you hear. Everyone in the courthouse is there for a reason – and by going out of your comfort zone, asking questions, and really listening, you can find priceless details to include in your story.