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What Does a Presiding Judge Do?

A presiding judge may work in any number of courts, including a state court system.
A presiding judge makes determinations on the application of law within a given case.
A presiding judge has an important job, even though it's the jury that decides guilt or innocence.
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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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A presiding judge is the judge with the legal authority over a given case. Presiding judges may work in any number of courts, including a state court system, a district court, court of appeals, a family court, a bankruptcy court or a tax court, among others. The presiding judge makes determinations on the application of law within the given case.

In the justice system within the United States, juries ultimately decide the guilt or innocence of defendants within many cases. Unless a person waives his right to trial by jury guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment, it is the jury who will hear the evidence, make a determination on who is telling the truth, and proclaim guilt or innocence. Even in jury trials, however, a presiding judge serves an important function.

While a jury decides guilt or innocence, there are a number of legal rules that impact the way in which a trial goes. For example, rules dictate that each party must have sufficient evidence that a reasonable question of law arises to bring a case in court. If one party has no evidence at all, the other party can file a motion to dismiss. If that occurs, the presiding judge will consider the evidence available and make a determination on whether to dismiss the case or allow the case to proceed to trial.

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Many other questions of law and legal issues also exist that a presiding judge has the responsibility for deciding. The judge has the obligation to apply the rules of evidence, determining what is and is not admissible for either side to present to the jury. He has to determine what information each party can request from the other during discovery if the parties have a dispute during this formal exchange of information. He also has to rule on objections made by lawyers and determine what instructions are given to a jury.

If a judge does not apply the law correctly, a case can be appealed. When this occurs, a higher court reviews the legal findings of the judge that presided over the original trial. While the appeals court will not generally change findings of facts made by the jury, the appeals court can alter the outcome of the case and/or send the case back to the original court for retrial with clarifying instructions to the judge if it believes the original judge made some mistake in his application of legal rules.

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Discuss this Article

Izzy78
Post 4

I have always thought that a civil judge had much more responsibility than a criminal court judge. The thing about civil courts concerning appeal is that it is very difficult for a civil case to go to appeal except when someone is determined to pay an amount. Considering that money is involved in the matter and there is not as much of an appeal process as in criminal courts the judge has a major responsibility in using his or her judgement and making sure the right decision is made and all the rules of law are followed.

kentuckycat
Post 3

There was a problem in my area with the local county judges that were elected to the bench. The problem with a lot of them was that they were very inexperienced and did not have very good judgement in the area of law.

The lawyers started to realize the pattern going on with these judges and started to capitalize off of their mistakes. Because the things that the judges were screwing up in the trial would warrant a legitimate appeal so many cases went to appeals court because of a mistake made that really should not have and should have been an easy case to hear.

This led to a lot of tax payer money being wasted to re hear all of these cases. The worst thing was that because the the voting for the judges was a simple yes or no vote come election time a lot of the public was unaware of the problems had they not been aware of the courts in the area, so most of them were re-elected and the problem continued.

cardsfan27
Post 2

@jcraig - You are absolutely correct. Most of the time the prosecuting lawyers have to make sure that the judge knows what he or she is doing or else their entire case can flounder. I remember once seeing the movie The People versus Larry Flynt and the judge in that case would not allow certain evidence to be used on his behalf in the case. Because of this mistake Larry Flynt was sentenced to many years in prison and he won on appeals. This was apparently a very factual part of the film and showed how a bad judge can completely bungle a case.

One other thing I think about is that if a judge screws up and the case has to be heard again or continue to be heard in the appeals courts it costs tax payers a lot of money due to the costs of the case going through the legal system. This is just another thing to consider and any judge must keep this in mind when they are using their judgement in cases. The people being prosecuted are not the only ones that can be affected with their decisions, the public can too.

jcraig
Post 1

The presiding judge is easily the most important person in any type of trial setting. The presiding judge is the person that must make sure that all legal laws and rules are followed. If there is a mistake made based on the judgement of the presiding judge the case can be completely dismissed and ruined for the prosecution of the case.

Usually judges that preside over trial cases are very well educated in the area of law and act more or less like guides in the case as opposed running thee court. He or she is the one that makes sure the lawyers do not go out of bounds with their argument and makes sure that the jury is doing everything correctly. This is a lot of responsibility for one person to have and a lot rides on the prosecution as well as the defense on the presiding judge and his knowledge of law.

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