top of page

Tell it to The Judge

The Extraordinary Power of Criminal Court Justice

Judges in criminal proceedings wield significant authority and often exert considerable influence over the entire process, from inception to conclusion. Whether presiding over initial appearances or issuing sentences, each stage presents an opportunity for shaping subsequent developments.

Across federal, state, county, or municipal jurisdictions, the judge remains the pivotal figure determining the fate of an arrested defendant. In the U.S. judicial system, criminal court judges have multifaceted roles. They oversee trials, ensuring order and assessing evidence for legality issues. Judges provide instructions to juries before deliberations and, in bench trials, make rulings on case facts and procedural matters, including setting bond amounts and court dates. They also hear arguments from both prosecution and defense, decide on motions, and ultimately determine sentencing post-conviction. Throughout the process, there are limited opportunities to introduce additional information. The judicial process typically begins with an initial appearance or arraignment, where defendants are informed of their rights and bail may be set. This is followed by a preliminary hearing, where the government must establish probable cause. If probable cause is found, the case proceeds to trial court. The final step involves extensive negotiations between the defense and prosecution, including discussions on plea agreements and potential sentencing outcomes.

Many judges attain their positions through elections or appointments, underscoring the inherently political nature of these appointments, which the public may have limited control over. However, akin to professionals in academia, medicine, and various other fields, judges exhibit varying levels of expertise and compassion. Through our regular engagement with the judicial system, we have encountered judges who demonstrate empathy towards those before them, as well as those who seemingly disregard individual circumstances or external factors contributing to a defendant's predicament.

Moreover, we have observed that the majority of judges are open to education and information, yet often lack exposure to external insights beyond those provided by clerks, seminars, conferences, or advocacy experiences aimed at curbing the cycle of arrest, incarceration, probation, or parole.

Here are 10 things that can influence criminal cases by interacting appropriately with the judge assigned to a criminal case. 

Early intervention is crucial. Judges may not always be informed about recent legislative changes regarding criminal punishments and procedures. This lack of awareness regarding legislative impacts can be exemplified by the experience of many syringe exchange programs that sought to modify laws concerning possession of paraphernalia or illicit drugs. Despite efforts to enact change, officials often remained unaware of how these legislative interventions affected policing within communities. 

A notable instance occurred with the passage of a 2021 law in Oregon decriminalizing possession of paraphernalia and small amounts of drugs. However, a breakdown in communication meant that law enforcement and court officials were uninformed about the new legislation. Consequently, individuals continued to be arrested, charged, and convicted for acts that were no longer considered criminal offenses. Even affected populations remained unaware of the legislative changes and were unable to advocate for themselves. 

The optimal time to intervene in such cases is during the initial appearance. Although this stage typically allows little time for intervention, defendants and advocates can briefly consult with a public defender. The public defender can then relay pertinent information to the judge, who may dismiss the charges before the case progresses further. Advocates should be prepared to present statutes and legislative data to the court during the initial appearance hearing.

Engaging with your attorney or Public Defender may sometimes seem futile, yet it's imperative that they possess all pertinent facts before presenting your case to the prosecution. Subsequently, the prosecution will assess whether a reduction in charges is warranted. If an agreement is reached, it must then be presented to the judge, who holds the authority to determine its fairness and compatibility with the evidence.

While this process may seem routine, it's crucial to recognize that judges retain the discretion to accept or reject plea agreements, akin to sentencing recommendations. Ensure that your attorney or Public Defender has access to evidence supporting your stance, including statements from family, friends, and even the alleged victim in some cases. Unfortunately, there are instances where legal representatives may fall short due to insufficient information. Attorneys typically prefer documented evidence, such as written records, video footage, text messages, and statements from professionals like physicians or pharmacies. Hearsay holds no weight as evidence; thus, it's essential to provide substantiated documentation to corroborate your claims thoroughly.

Judges hold significant sway and deserve respect, despite occasionally lacking insight into the complexities faced by those appearing before them.

Addressing them as "Your Honor" and seeking permission to speak before doing so is essential etiquette. Using polite language such as "please" and "thank you" is also important, and preparing your thoughts in writing can help you communicate concisely and avoid being interrupted. If you have legal representation, it's advisable to inform them of your intention to address the judge directly and share the content of your intended remarks. It's wise to heed any advice they offer in this regard.

Effective communication with the judge, including clear and concise articulation of key points, can enhance understanding and credibility, potentially influencing the judge's decision-making process.

An underused tactic for influencing judicial decisions is writing a letter to the judge. Your letter should be short, factual and respectful. Make sure that the letter contains your legal name, case number, attorneys name and phone number and your willingness to provide documentation to back up your story. You can explain your situation but don’t make the letter longer than 2 pages or it won’t make it past the clerk. Make sure that you send a copy of the letter to your attorney or Public Defender. 

Skillfully presenting evidence in a logical and coherent manner can strengthen the case's validity and impact the judge's evaluation of the facts.

Clear presentation of evidence helps the judge understand the facts of the case without confusion or ambiguity, allowing them to make more informed decisions. A well-organized presentation of evidence increases its credibility and reliability in the eyes of the judge. When evidence is presented in a logical manner, it appears more trustworthy and persuasive. Skillful presentation ensures that only relevant evidence is introduced, avoiding distractions or irrelevant information that could detract from the case's strength. By presenting evidence in a manner that highlights its significance and relevance to the case, the presentation can have a stronger impact on the judge, influencing their evaluation of the facts and ultimately their decision.

Judges often consider previous legal decisions, known as legal precedents, when determining the outcome of a case.

Legal precedents help set expectations for how the law should be applied in specific situations. If there are precedents that favor the defendant, it can create an expectation that similar cases should be decided similarly. If there are precedents that support the defendant's argument or position, it can strengthen their case in the eyes of the judge. Judges rely on these legal precedents to ensure consistency and fairness in their decisions. By adhering to established precedents, they can make more informed and equitable rulings in criminal proceedings.

Presenting compelling mitigation strategies, such as demonstrating remorse or highlighting extenuating circumstances, can influence the judge's sentencing decision in cases where guilt has been established.

Advocates should consistently seek permission from a defendant's attorney before taking any action. While advocates can offer valuable assistance, particularly in cases involving drugs and prostitution, their involvement can also complicate matters. These topics evoke strong emotions, and it's essential for advocates to recognize the potential to either help or harm a case. They can gather letters of support and attend court appearances as spectators to show community support for the defendant. Regular attendance by advocates can draw the judge's attention and demonstrate community backing. However, court support presents challenges due to the diverse opinions and polarizing nature of the issues involved. Advocates must maintain a respectful demeanor in court to avoid negatively impacting the defendant's prospects. Effective advocacy necessitates prioritizing the client's needs and always acting in their best interests.

Adhering to court procedures, following the judge's instructions, and cooperating with legal requirements can foster a positive impression and potentially influence the judge's perception of the case. The most important thing to remember about court appearances is to be there on time, pay attention, speak clearly and concisely and be respectful.

Being late for court infuriates judges and there are serious consequences that can happen if you are late including having your bond revoked and ending up back in jail. 

Judges, being attorneys themselves, often mingle with other legal professionals. It's challenging to assess the extent to which judges may be influenced by interactions with attorneys on the golf course or at social events.

Attorneys are typically well-informed about a judge's stance on various issues and political leanings, and they are adept at presenting concise arguments in informal settings. It's not uncommon for attorneys, along with other members of the legal system, to have a potential impact on individual cases. Therefore, it's beneficial to allow your attorney or Public Defender to leverage their social connections to advocate on your behalf. Judges also have social ties with the prosecution, and they may advocate for their own positions regarding your case. Hence, it's crucial to utilize all available advantages through your attorney's social network. If a judge holds your attorney in high regard and has had positive interactions with them previously, it could significantly benefit your case. Remember, a judge's perception of you is primarily shaped by your conduct during court appearances, so it's essential to consistently present yourself in the best possible light.

Remaining adaptable and responsive to the judge's feedback and cues throughout the proceedings can enable the legal team to adjust their strategy effectively, potentially influencing the overall outcome of the case.

Legal formalism assets that judges apply legal principles to case facts in a rational, systematic, and thoughtful manner. Conversely, legal realism contends that the rational application of legal principles alone fails to fully account for judicial decisions, suggesting that psychological, political, and societal influences also play a role. A common perception of legal realism is that factors as trivial as "what the judge ate for breakfast" can impact rulings, supported by research indicating that extraneous variables may sway judicial decisions unrelated to legal considerations. Judges, like everyone else, are multifaceted individuals whose personal experiences and circumstances can affect their judgment. They may have personal issues, physical discomfort, or be emotionally affected by prior cases. While this may not seem equitable, it remains a reality. Instances of judges exhibiting inappropriate behavior in court, as seen in viral videos, underscore the importance of maintaining decorum and advocating effectively despite any negative demeanor displayed by the judge.

Keep in mind that 97% of cases in the United States are decided by a plea agreement in order to speed up the process and help the prosecution maintain their conviction rate. 

In the United States, the legal landscape is characterized by a significant reliance on plea agreements, with approximately 97% of cases being resolved through this mechanism. Plea agreements are instrumental in expediting the judicial process and aiding the prosecution in maintaining their conviction rate. This widespread utilization of plea agreements reflects a pragmatic approach aimed at alleviating the burden on the judicial system, which is often inundated with a backlog of cases awaiting trial. The prevalence of plea agreements has sparked debates regarding the fairness and efficacy of the criminal justice system. Critics argue that the emphasis on plea bargaining may undermine principles of justice by incentivizing defendants to forgo their right to trial in exchange for reduced sentences or charges, even when they may be innocent or have valid defenses. 

Despite these legitimate concerns, plea agreements remain a "cornerstone" of the American legal system, supposedly serving as a primary mechanism for resolving a vast majority of criminal cases. 

21 views0 comments


bottom of page