What Do Judges Do?
A judge fulfills many roles, but a judge’s most important role is ensuring that both parties involved in a legal proceeding have a fair trial. They interpret the intent of a law, assess the evidence presented, and ensure that both parties follow courtroom procedures. When unusual circumstances arise, for which there is no standard procedure, a judge will interpret the law to decide how a trial proceeds.
Long before a trial occurs, the prosecution and the defense will meet with a judge at a pre-trial. Judges who preside over a pre-trial will look at the evidence and decide whether or not a trial is even necessary. A pre-trial is also where a judge will take the plea of the defendant and set the conditions of the trial like, for instance, what evidence can be used. Judges at a pre-trial then decide whether or not the defendant will be kept in jail until the trial or be released from police custody on set conditions. Most individuals charged with a crime are released on bail, except for those who are considered to be a danger to public safety.
Judges presiding over a non-jury criminal trial will listen to the arguments presented by both parties, look at the evidence, and will interpret the law in relation to the evidence before reaching a verdict on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Anyone who faces imprisonment of five or more years, if convicted of a crime, can request a jury trial. At a jury trial, it is the jury who assesses the evidence and passes judgment. A judge presiding over a jury trial takes on the role of a moderator. The judge will tell the jurors which laws apply to the case, explain the laws, and instruct the jurors to consider the facts from the evidence. This is all to ensure that both parties receive a fair trial. Jurors will then deliberate about a verdict until they reach a unanimous verdict. If the jury delivers a guilty verdict, the judge will pass sentence on the defendant. The judge will determine the sentence based on the severity of the crime and the sentence can range from a few years to lifetime imprisonment.
Judges also preside over a civil trial. In a civil trial, two parties bring a case before the court to settle a dispute. A judge presiding over a civil trial will familiarize himself with the case by reading the relevant paperwork. During the trial, the judge will listen to the arguments made by both sides and look at the evidence before deciding what the facts of the case are. Sometimes the parties will discuss with the judge and agree upon the facts of the case before the trial, which eliminates the need for both parties to use court time to present evidence. The judge will also ask questions for the purpose of clarifying information. The judge will then interpret the law in relation to the facts of the case to determine if a plaintiff is entitled to damages or an injunction. Once a judge reaches a verdict, the judge will decide how much damages the plaintiff will receive. However, in libel and slander cases a jury in brought in to determine the outcome of a case. In addition to all this, judges also approve search and arrest warrants.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average judge earned $90,600 in 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $158,700. Most judges work full time and may have to work overtime to prepare for case hearings. Judges may also have their nights and weekends interrupted because law enforcement officials may need emergency orders, such as search warrants and restraining orders. Despite the demand for judges, the employment growth of judges is expected to remain steady for the next seven years. Vacancies will arise but because of budget constraints, the government may not be able to fill those positions.