The following is reprinted without permission.

Proper Dress Essential for First Felony Trial

Miss Manners

Judith Martin

Dear Miss Manners: Late one night, I happened to visit a military institution in order to destroy a particularly noxious element of the First Strike Weapons System. After all, dangerous weapons should not simply be left lying about where children or generals could get hold of them and perhaps injure someone.

As I engaged in this project, I realized it was important to reassure any military personnel whom I might meet that I am a polite young woman who, despite very strong feelings about nuclear weapons, would never wish to injure another person, however misguided.

Hence, at the entrance to the facility in which I was to busy myself, I left the following items: a bouquet, a box of cookies and a greeting card. I'm worried about that card. Should I have used personal stationery instead? Is it ever appropriate to use a commercial greeting card? This one had a pleasant photograph on it, and the interior was blank: naturally I added a short and polite note. Nonetheless, I'm now consumed with misgivings. What would have been the most tasteful form of correspondence in this situation? My second question revolves around the appropriate dress for a courtroom situation. I find myself quite caught up in litigation these days. The military has taken such a dim view of my efforts at tidying up its base.

What does a lady wear to her first felony trial? This is clearly a significant occasion, which will occur only once in a lifetime. I do so want to do the Right Thing: even more, I want the jury to do the Right Thing.

Surely appropriate attire is integral to a speedy acquittal.

Gentle Reader: Let Miss Manners relieve your mind about the card. Her objection to using these items for anything except a casual "Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas" are answered by the fact that you wrote your own words (presuming that they and the photograph where not in bad taste).

Naturally, what one wears to a trial should have no bearing on the jury's finding. Naturally, what one wears to a trial has an influence on the jury.

That is because in the complex process of determining what is just, juries must often take into consideration the view that the defendant has toward society and its laws.

Is she, for example, someone who has been driven by conscience to violate a law, or someone who routinely defies society out of lack of respect of a feeling of superiority, or for amusement?

By your small politenesses in the course of your action, you are demonstrating that you subscribe to the idea that one follows the conventional gestures of one's society in order to reassure others that one means them no harm.

Dressing in conformity with the most conservative standards of the community should not win you a speedy acquittal. But it should signal the jury that you respect society's standards.