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Judges manage the legal process and oversee court proceedings to ensure that they are fair and follow the law. Judges work in local, state and federal courts and are appointed or elected. A law degree and experience working as an attorney are required for most judge positions.
Judges must do a lot of reading and research. They must research laws and case histories relevant to the cases before them, and they must stay current on changes to the law. In addition, they must read and evaluate evidence, motions and records specific to the cases they are hearing. Judges must be able to take in all of the relevant research, evidence and testimony and apply them to cases in court.
Trials and Hearings
Judges preside over trials and hearings. They enforce the rules of the court and hear arguments from attorneys, receive and review evidence and listen to witness testimony. Throughout the trial, judges must make accurate rulings on whether evidence or testimonies are admissible and relevant to the trial. Throughout the entire judicial process, judges must remain impartial. They must put aside all personal feelings and beliefs and make all rulings and decisions based on the evidence and relevant laws. In addition, a judge should may not preside over a case if it involves her family, friends, or past or current employees or business associates. In those cases, the judge "recuses" herself and asks that another judge handle the matter.
In jury trials, the judge instructs the jury on relevant law and how to consider the evidence. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the judge will issue a sentence that may include a fine, jail time or both. In trials without a jury, the judge decides, based on the evidence, if the individual charged is guilty and issues a verdict and sentence. In civil trials, the judge determines whether the plaintiff or defendant presented the stronger case. Then he rules how much in damages to award the winning party.
Parole and Work-Release
Judges perform many duties outside of the courtroom. For example, if a criminal violates his parole or probation, the judge can revoke the parole and sentence the individual to prison time. In some cases, judges work on parole boards and grant parole to criminals serving time in prison. The also review and make decisions on work-release requests from prisoners based on state and federal work-release laws and criteria.
Some judges specialize in family law cases. They must make decisions about child custody and division of property during a divorce. These judges might also supervise "orphans court," an old term for the handling of wills and inheritances to make sure a decedant's wishes are followed. They also oversee juvenile trials. These trials do not have juries, so the judge not only ensures that the trial is run fairly but he also makes a ruling and sentences juvenile offenders.
Judges also issue search warrants, arrest warrants and restraining orders. They set bail for people charged with crimes or decide that they must stay in prison until the trial is complete. Appellate judges review cases and determine if an earlier trial was fair and followed the correct procedure and legal process. If not, these judges can reverse a ruling or allow the case to be re-tried. Other administrative duties may include creating budgets for the courts. Some judges also supervise other courtroom staff and judges.