When convicted arsonist Lawrence Ahrens Jr. began his sentencing hearing last week, he must have known that his best shot at avoiding a long prison stint was to make a good impression on the judge. So it’s hard to understand why, as Paul Nelson at the Albany Times Union reported, Ahrens “strolled into court with a white short-sleeve T-shirt with ‘Snitches Get Stitches’ splashed across the back in bold letters.” The shirt’s obverse was just as inappropriate: It featured a big red stop sign above the word “Snitching.” Stop Snitching—get it? Nelson notes that Ahrens “apparently wanted to make a statement” with his daring attire, but, from where I’m sitting, the only statement he made was “I have bad judgment.” The judge made Ahrens remove the shirt, and then sentenced him to 15 years in prison, where his shirts will be chosen for him.
Now, the First Amendment generally protects your right to express yourself through your apparel, and if I were a judge, I’d like to think I wouldn’t get upset about other people’s clothing choices. But some judges take courtroom decorum very, very seriously, and if you’re coming to court for whatever reason, you need to realize that. The record is filled with tales of defendants, jurors, and spectators who have scandalized courtrooms with their provocative garb. Here are six notable stories.
Killer’s highly appropriate, highly inappropriate T-shirt. T.J. Lane, the Ohio teenager convicted of killing three students at Chardon High School in 2012, looked appropriately buttoned-down when he arrived at his sentencing hearing earlier this year. Halfway through, though, he removed his collared shirt to reveal a white T-shirt on which he had hand-lettered the word “KILLER.” The shirt wasn’t even Lane’s most antagonistic decision that day—when given the chance to make a statement, he turned to