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Judicial proceedings refer to any proceedings that take place in a court of law in which a judge presides. The proceedings can be either criminal or civil. The judge need not even be the one making the final decision on the case in order for proceedings to be considered judicial proceedings, as long as the action is occurring in a court room where the judge has authority.
In a criminal context, judicial proceedings involve a trial in which a defendant is tried by a prosecutor, such as for murder. The judge may not have the opportunity to make a final verdict on guilt or innocence in such a case, since the Sixth Amendment guarantees accused criminals the right to a jury of their peers. This means that, although a judge presides over the proceedings and has control over certain aspects of the trial, the ultimate decision is made by the jury.
Civil litigation is also considered a form of judicial proceeding. Unlike criminal law, the state is not involved in bringing a civil lawsuit. An individual who was wronged by another individual, corporation or legal entity, brings the lawsuit in civil cases. The defendant is summoned to court after a plaintiff sues and the trial is heard in front of a judge. Again, the judge may not be the one to make the decision on whether the defendant is guilty or not, as a jury trial is common in civil litigation as well.
Although juries make the ultimate decision about guilt or innocence, the proceedings in a court are still referred to as judicial proceedings. The name exists because the judge plays a very important role in proceedings brought before the court. The judge, essentially, enforces the rules of the courtroom.
He does this by ruling on what evidence can be presented to the jury or by making a determination on whether a given question asked by one attorney is appropriate. He also gives instructions to the jury based on the nature of the trial. Finally, he may even be responsible for sentencing a criminal if the jury decides that the criminal is guilty, or he may have to modify or determine whether a punitive damages award is appropriate in a civil case.
Judicial proceedings are especially important in the appellate level, in which the judges actually determine how the law applies to a given situation or case. An appeal is a case in which either the plaintiff or the defendant doesn't like the way the lower court applied the law and asks a higher court to review whether the law was interpreted correctly. In common law countries, the judicial decrees — the statements about what a law means — in appeals actions actually become the law.
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