• North Carolina Criminal Law | Understanding What a Judge Does
  • July 3, 2012
  • Law Firm: Matheson Law Office PLLC - Raleigh Office
  • Everyone is aware that when you are charged with a North Carolina Traffic Citation or a North Carolina Criminal Charge you have to go to the courthouse (unless you elect to pay your ticket online; which is NEVER advised). At the courthouse, most people are aware that they are the Defendant and that the State utilizes Prosecutors to negotiate and, where necessary, try the cases against these defendants. In these situations, the Defendant's can elect to hire a North Carolina Criminal Attorney or North Carolina Traffic Attorney to represent them or they can represent themselves (when this is done, the Defendant is referred to as a 'Pro Se Defendant' which just means they are representing themselves). What a lot of people have trouble understanding is the role the Judge plays in all of these proceedings. As a Raleigh DWI Attorney and Raleigh Criminal Attorney, I have seen many times where people misunderstand the function of the Judge in the court proceeding, which could potentially jeopardized their case.

    A Judge's function in the judicial proceedings is to serve as a kind of referee. The Judge will oversee procedural matters before the trial like continuances, motions, pleadings, etc. Additionally, once the trial has commenced, the Judge will make rulings on evidentiary and trial proceeding issues that are raised by the Defense or the Prosecution (normally in the form of an Objection). If the case is what is referred to as a Bench Trial, meaning there is no jury, then the Judge will make a determination as to whether the State has met it's burden of proving their evidence 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' Finally, should the Judge feel the State met their burden, and finds the Defendant Guilty, then the Judge will make a ruling on what Sentence the Defendant will face.

    As for mistakes that people have regarding Judges, there are a few. Just today, I observed a woman representing herself on a speeding ticket. In this case, the woman attempted to ask the Judge questions regarding the law as it pertains to this woman's case. This is an example of the first mistake people can make when going before the Judge without legal representation; Judges are not there to answer questions for you about your case, your rights, etc. This leads into the second, and more commonly made, mistake people have regarding Judges: Judges will NOT give you legal advice on how to handle your case. As a 'referee' of the court, the Judge can not assist one side or the other as it could be perceived as the Judge having a bias towards that side. The Judge will attempt to stay as neutral as possible so there can be no inference of prejudicial conduct on the part of the Judge.

    Due to the fact that the Judge will not provide legal advice on your case, and the fact that the Prosecution will ALSO NOT provide you legal advice, then this explains why most people elect to hire an attorney to represent them. That's not to say that there have not been successful Pro Se Defendants. To the contrary, I've observed people who have succeeded in court having represented themselves, but they are far from the majority. The reality is, court proceedings are tricky, with a lot of customs and procedures that must be followed, and without a thorough knowledge of these proceedings, in addition to the law and how it is applied, it can be difficult to navigate on your own.

    If you are facing a North Carolina Misdemeanor, North Carolina DWI charge or North Carolina Traffic Case, speak with a local defense attorney in your area about your case (even if it is just to get a free case evaluation).

    Disclaimer - Information and advice offered in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is specific to North Carolina law. The viewing, receipt and/or exchange of information from this article does not constitute an Attorney-Client Relationship. For assistance regarding your particular legal question speak with an Attorney practicing in the field from which your questions derives.