By now, most people are familiar with some aspects of criminal court cases and legal jargon from watching legal procedural television shows. But there are still some aspects of real court cases that get confusing if T.V. is your primary source of information.
For instance, what is the role of a judge in a jury trial? The jury is making the decision about whether the defendant can be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. What does the judge do?
The Role of a Judge in a Courtroom Procedure
We see this aspect of a judge’s job when on a T.V. show. One of the lawyers says “objection” to an argument or line of questioning being made by the opposing party lawyer.
The judge either says “sustained” or “overruled.” This is an example of a judge making sure all parties – lawyers, witnesses, and defendants – follow courtroom procedure. Courtroom procedure is the means by which our legal justice system attempts to give everyone a fair trial. It’s important to have someone making sure all parties follow the rules.
Judges often have to rule on the part of a trial regarding evidence. He or she makes the final decision about which evidence can be shown or told to the jury, whether or not it will unfairly prejudice the jury.
The Role of a Judge as an Expert on Law
In a criminal case, there are two aspects being argued:
- The facts of the case; who did the crime, where, with what, and why.
- What does the law say about what happened?
Both of these points can be in dispute, or sometimes only one. In other words, the defense may argue that the suspect in question did not do the crime. The prosecution may argue that the suspect did do the crime, and theorize as to why.
In that case, the jury has to decide if it can be proved that the suspect did the crime.
The other way in which arguments can be made is if both parties agree on the facts of the case. They agree that the defendant DID do the crime. However, they are not in agreement over how the law would interpret and penalize the defendant’s actions.
Quite often, both types of arguments are being made.
In the first case, although the jury decides who, what, where, when and why, the judge can act as a fact finder for the jury.
In the second case, however, the judge must provide instructions for the jury about the law in order to help the jury make an educated decision about the law and the case.
The Role of a Judge in Sentencing
If the defendant is found guilty of the crime for which he or she was suspected, the judge passes his or her sentence. It is his or her job to impose a penalty according to the law. This includes a fine and/or a penalty according to sentencing guidelines and the severity of the crime.
The United States has what’s called an “adversarial” justice system. It means court cases are like contests – which makes for interesting television. The idea is to make evidence and legal arguments fully and forcefully presented in order to give accused persons the benefit of a fair trial.
The judge is supposed to remain objective – outside of the “game” – in order to provide an independent viewpoint and an impartial look at all the facts. Judges have many roles in any given trial. Furthermore, getting a fair trial depends very much upon the integrity of the judge.
In addition, if you are facing a jury trial and need experienced legal representation, please call my office today.