What Does the Judge Do in a Criminal Case?
Since criminal cases can include both judges and juries, it can be confusing for people with no legal experience to understand exactly what a judge does in a criminal case. Some decisions are for the judge alone to make, while other decisions are for the jury to make. This article discusses the common issues that will be decided by a judge in a criminal case.
The Judge Decides Whether Bail is Set
One of the first—and most important things—that a judge decides in a case is whether to set bail. Bail is money that you must pay to be released while your case is pending. Judges can decide to release you and set no bail while your case is pending. On the other hand, for a very serious case, like murder, the court can remand you and not set bail, meaning that you will not be released while the case is pending.
In between the extremes of release and remand is bail. If, for instance, you are arraigned for a grand larceny case and the judge sets bail at $5000, you must pay $5000 to be released while your case is pending. Generally, you get the money back once your case is over if you make all of your court appearances. The purpose of bail is to help ensure that you return to court. The thought behind it is that if you must pay a significant amount of money that you will lose if you don’t return to court, then you will return to court.
Whether a judge sets bail is incredibly important in a case. Since criminal cases can take many months or years to resolve, a defendant may be in jail for a long time before his case is resolved. Unfortunately, defendants sometimes will accept guilty pleas to get out of jail even if they aren’t guilty.
It’s important to have an experienced criminal lawyer on your side when the judge decides whether to set bail. Your attorney can explain the weaknesses of the case and all of the reasons why you are responsible and will show up to court even if bail is not set.
The Judge Issues Temporary Orders of Protection
Often in domestic violence cases, the judge will issue an order of protection at the defendant’s first appearance. The order of protection commonly orders the defendant to stay away from the home of the complainant and have no communication with her.
Orders of protection can wreak havoc on a person’s life, especially when the person lives with the complainant. A person whom an order of protection is issued against may have to move out of his or her home while the case is pending, which can cause extreme financial, professional, and family hardships.
When an order of protection may be issued, it’s important to have an experienced lawyer who can assess whether there may be legitimate reasons for the order to be restricted. Oftentimes, the person whom the order is supposed to protect does not actually want an order of protection issued, and a defense attorney can investigate the case to determine the best course of action.
The Judge Decides Whether to Dismiss the Case for Insufficient Allegations
When a person is charged with a crime, the prosecution must file a charging document—either a criminal information or an indictment. These charging documents contain a brief recitation of the legal allegations and factual allegations. In other words, the charging document indicates the elements of the specific crime charged as well as a brief factual summary that explains what the defendant did to allegedly commit the charged crime.
Sometimes, the information in the charging document is insufficient to establish the charged offense. In that case, a defense attorney can submit a motion that asks the court to dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence being alleged in the charging document. If the court grants that motion, then the case against the defendant is dismissed.
To be clear, a Judge will generally not dismiss the case if there is an issue of fact. For instance, say in a robbery case, the alleged victim says the defendant robbed him, but the defendant has evidence showing that the alleged victim has a motive to lie against the defendant. In that situation, the judge would not dismiss the case, as the jury would have to assess whether or not the alleged victim is credible.
The Judge Makes Sure That the Trial Follows Proper Procedures
During a trial, a jury will decide whether a defendant is guilty after assessing and weighing all the evidence. The role of the judge is to make sure that the jury only hears evidence that is admissible according to statutes and previously decided cases. During the trial, attorneys on both sides will make objections when they believe questions or evidence are not admissible to the jury.
The judge also instructs the jury on what the law is, including the charged offenses. For instance, in a drug case, the judge will tell the jury all of the elements of the charged drug offense and instruct the jury that they must find that all of those elements have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant.
In some rare situations, a trial will occur without a jury. Sometimes, a defendant may prefer to waive a jury. For instance, some sex offense cases can be very sensitive and can easily disturb a jury. A judge may be better positioned to independently and rationally assess the elements of the offense. Also, with very technical cases, like some cyber crimes, the elements can be so complicated that a judge may be better suited to analyze the elements and facts to assess whether a defendant is guilty.
The Judge Decides the Sentence
If a defendant is found guilty at trial, the judge will determine what sentence the defendant should receive within the bounds of the law. The defense attorney and defendant will have an opportunity to be heard to make sure the judge hears all of the important details about the defendant’s life to help ensure that the judge makes an informed and fair decision.
Need Help? Speak to NYC Criminal Defense Lawyer Cody Warner Today
If you are facing criminal charges, contact NYC criminal defense lawyer Cody Warner for a free consultation. He can review your case to determine the best path forward.