Other than bang gavels and say things like, “I have ruled,” what exactly is the role of a judge in the Courtroom?
It isn’t like you see on TV or in movies. Judges’ roles aren’t quite as active as all that.
I like what Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court said in the opening statement of his confirmation hearings: “Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.”
Judges have no authority to decide what is and isn’t brought before the Court. In a criminal case, that is the job of the prosecutor. Judges can’t negotiate your charges. Judges and prosecutors represent two different branches of government: the judge is the judicial branch, and the prosecutor is the executive branch. One of those can’t tell the other how to do his or her job.
The Georgia Supreme Court just recently weighed in on the differences in what a prosecutor and judge do in the Courtroom, especially when a plea bargain is at play. In State v. Kelley, decided on February 22, 2016, Justice Huntstein said, “The authority and discretion to plea bargain rest with the State…and, it is within the State’s purview to place conditions on any such plea…. ‘The authority of the prosecutor to bargain is inherent in his office and is of utmost importance in the orderly administration of criminal justice.’… In contrast, the trial court is prohibited from participating in plea negotiations…The trial court also lacks the authority to dismiss a criminal charge over the State’s objection where there is no legal basis for that dismissal; any such decision impermissibly interfere with the State’s right to prosecute.”
In the paragraph above, Justice Huntstein uses (appropriately) very formal legalese, calling the prosecutor “The State,” since that is who the prosecutor represents, and calling the judge “The Trial Court,” since the judge’s role is bigger than that of the individual judge.
So, like an umpire, the judge decides whether everyone is playing by the rules. The judge does not decide what the rules are, nor does the judge decide when to make a complaint about a break of rules. Like a referee, to continue the sports analogy, the judge decides what the penalty is going to be for the infraction, and whether a ball goes foul. The judge, like the referee, does not decide which plays get made, which players are in the game, or overall strategy.
That’s not to say that a judge has little effect on how things go. Good (or bad) officiating can affect the outcome of a ballgame. Same with a Court hearing. Good judging can ensure that the playing field is level and the rules are followed.
Either way, three strikes, and you’re out.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.