In the American justice system, prosecutors and judges play an important role due to adversarial litigation between prosecutors and defense counsels where a judge acts as the referee. The role of prosecutors and judges is enshrined in the various court cases and precedents provided in the American court system. Both court personnel must adhere to the common law principles and statutes provided by multiple court cases. This essay provides a synopsis of judges’ and prosecutors’ history and current roles in the criminal justice system.
Role of Judges
Judges serve as independent, impartial decision-makers in the application of the law principles. The judge is the ruler of the courtroom as she decides all matters of courtroom procedure. When a case is presented to a court, the judge’s role is to determine whether there is enough evidence to prove a crime and a person should be charged. The judges utilize the existence of prima facie evidence where the court is likely to convict a person regardless of a statement by the accused (Neubauer & Fradella, 2018). In addition, judges are responsible for issuing warrants of arrests and searches in suspect premises. Judges are also responsible for setting bail and bond terms and ensuring the adherence of the same. The judge also makes the ultimate decision regarding the court dates and ensures the suspects appear in court. Where a plea bargain is reached, the judge approves and finalizes plea bargains accepted by the suspects unconditionally.
The judge also resolves hearings and disputes in scenarios such as suppression hearings and challenges to evidence tabled by the defense. The judge acts as the referee between the defense attorneys and prosecutors. The judge decides on all legal issues, including ruling on evidentiary objections. Testimony or evidence is disallowed where a judge sustains an objection to evidence brought by the party objecting to the evidence. Testimony or evidence is sustained where a judge overrules the objection, thus disagreeing with the objecting party. Some evidence questions are settled through judges’ decisions in pre-trial motions. However, most evidentiary issues cannot be predicted and must be ruled during the trial. Judges also oversee trials, both bench trials or trial by jury. In a trial by jury, the judge acts as a guide to the jury to adhere to the law. The judge instructs the jury on legal matters before the jury’s verdict since they serve as the trier of facts presented by the prosecution. The purpose of this guide is to help the jury make the most informed decision. In cases where a jury trial is disallowed, or parties have waived a trial by jury, the judge acts as the trier of facts and law.
Judges decide on legal issues and factual issues pertinent to the case. The drawback to this scenario is that one person, the judge, makes the final verdict. In addition, the judge may rule certain evidence inadmissible, such as evidence which the jury has already seen due to the possibility of bias. However, the law presumes the judge can resist the temptation of being influenced by inadmissible evidence. Judges also enforce order in the courtroom to ensure the case in session is not interrupted. Lastly, judges interpret the law according to the facts of a case and can exercise flexibility in interpreting the law by going against precedents.
Role of Prosecutors
According to previous court cases, the prosecutor acts as an advocate for the government and as an independent officer of the court charged with upholding justice. Prosecutors thus have an inherent duty to influence all the decisions regarding a criminal case. The balancing of obligation to seek justice and convict guilty people necessitated the need for prosecutor’s discretion. Prosecutorial discretion is one of the most critical functions of a prosecutor since it acts as a gateway for the cases that can be prosecuted in a court of law. A prosecutor should seek to bring charges in cases where the defendant’s conduct is most egregious, where the public harm is the greatest, and where the evidence is the strongest (Sklansky, 2016). In the American justice system, Prosecutors have a fair amount of discretion to decide what charges should be brought before a judge and who to charge.
In addition, prosecutors have the discretion to decide how a case should be resolved, whether through a trial or a plea bargain. The prosecutor also decides the type of plea bargain to offer to suspects. Most plea bargains involve the defendant pleading guilty in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop other charges. In American criminal justice, approximately 95% of criminal convictions are obtained through plea bargains since trials are labor-intensive and costly (Roth, 2018). The prosecutor has the most say in the type of plea bargain while the judge rubber stamps the plea bargain.
Prosecutors are also charged with investigating crimes, seeking an indictment, and charges with sufficient evidence to prove the crime. The prosecutor’s burden of proof is high since they have to construct a case that withstands all attacks from the defense attorney. The prosecutors are involved in the investigative stage through reviewing the evidence such as police reports, interviewing witnesses and victims, issuing subpoenas to gather the evidence required to start a trial. Prosecutors also work with enforcement agencies to gather evidence regarding cases, such as advising police officers regarding due process. The prosecutors negotiate with the defense attorney regarding the weaknesses or strengths of the case. Prosecutors present cases since the court’s process and adjudicate cases brought by public prosecutors. Finally, the prosecutor represents the government in a jury trial and tries to convict the charge defendant.
Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2018). America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning.
Roth, M. P. (2018). A history of crime and the American criminal justice system. Routledge.
Sklansky, D. A. (2016). The Nature and Function of Prosecutorial Power. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 106(3), 473–520. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26404025