Whether it’s a football team, Broadway production, factory line or fire department, each person
has their defined roles.
The same is true in court, of course.
Everyone from the bailiff to the court reporter has a job to do.
But the judge and the jury are the most crucial roles in court.
If you find yourself in a jury trial, at the very least you should know what the roles
of the judge and the jury are.
Although you undoubtedly have the gist, certainty usually wins the day in the courtroom.
So, let’s break down the role of the judge first.
Even in a jury trial, the judge still wears many hats.
Metaphorical hats, of course.
First and foremost, the judge is an independent, impartial decision-maker in the pursuit of
Each side makes its arguments and presents the facts and evidence that it wants the jury
It’s up to the judge to oversee it all without bias.
The judge is the ruler of the courtroom.
She decides all matters of courtroom procedure.
She also decides all legal issues, including ruling on evidentiary objections.
When the judge “sustains” an objection to evidence, it means she agrees with the
party objecting and the evidence or testimony is disallowed.
If she “overrules” the objection, it means she disagrees with the party objecting and
the evidence will come in.
Sometimes some evidence questions are settled beforehand, through the judge’s decisions
on pretrial motions.
But often the evidentiary issues cannot be predicted in advance and must be ruled on
during the trial.
Another part of the judge’s duty is to act as a guide for the jury.
The judge will instruct the jury about the law before the jury’s verdict, so that they
make the most informed decision possible.
Juries are assembled to determine if someone is liable or not liable in a case—based
on the evidence that that has been admitted, and only on that evidence.
This makes the jury—in stuffy lawyer speak—the “trier of fact”.
If the jury does find the defendant liable, they must also decide how much in damages
the defendant must pay.
There are cases where a jury trial is not permitted, or where the parties have waived
a trial by jury.
The judge plays both the normal role of a judge, but is also the trier of fact.
The judge decides both the legal issues and the factual issues.
This can be more streamlined and efficient, but it has its drawbacks.
For one, the decision is being made by one person, not six.
It also presents the problem that the judge may rule certain evidence inadmissible, but
unlike a jury, the judge has already seen the evidence that the trier of fact should
The law presumes that the judge has the ability that jurors do not to resist the temptation
of being influenced by inadmissible evidence.
By the way, trying the case without a jury is called a “bench trial.”
It’s called that because, confusingly enough, the elevated desk the judge sits behind is
not called a desk or a table, but a “bench.”
Even more confusingly, the judge sits on a chair, not a bench, but the word comes from
the days when judges actually sat on benches.
Anyway, you could say that, in a bench trial, the only one getting benched is the jury.
Don’t let yourself get sidelined by a lack
of knowledge of how the game is played.
Call on Legalyou.
Where the courtroom is not just for lawyers.