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The Role of Judges in Criminal Cases

Updated November 22, 2016

A criminal court judge plays a number of important roles in a criminal case. A judge's role frequently starts before the defendant is even aware that he is going to be charged with a criminal offence. A criminal court judge makes decisions from Day One in a criminal case that may affect the defendant's freedom for many years to come.

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In many cases, a judge's first job in a criminal law case is to review and sign or reject arrest warrants or a search-and-seizure warrants. While many arrests are made immediately after the commission of a crime, others are only made after a thorough investigation by the police. As part of that investigation, the police may require a judge to authorise a search-and-seizure warrant and ultimately an arrest warrant.


A criminal court judge will frequently be responsible for setting initial bail amounts and for presiding over bail reduction hearings. If the defendant has requested a bail reduction hearing, the judge will listen to the arguments of the prosecutor and the defence attorney and decide whether to lower the defendant's bail or leave it at the amount it was originally set at.


Criminal court judges will rule on all motions and preliminary matters during the pretrial phase of a criminal case. These motions could include motions to produce evidence, motions to exclude evidence, motions to compel and a variety of other motions made by the state or the defence during trial preparation.


A criminal court judge is responsible for presiding over a jury trial or a bench trial. A bench trial is also known as a trial by judge, wherein the judge, instead of a jury, makes the final decision. During a jury trial, the judge's role is to make sure that trial procedure is followed, educate the jury regarding its responsibilities and rule on any motions made during the trial. In a jury trial, the jury will make the final decision regarding guilt.


At the end of a trial, or pursuant to a plea agreement, if the defendant has plead guilty or been found guilty, the judge will pronounce the defendant's sentence. If the terms of the sentence have already been agreed upon by the parties, then the judge simply accepts the terms or rejects them. If the terms of the sentence are not predetermined, then the judge will listen to arguments from both sides before deciding on an appropriate sentence.

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About the Author

Renee Booker

Renee Booker has been writing professionally since 2009 and was a practicing attorney for almost 10 years. She has had work published on Gadling, AOL's travel site. Booker holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Indiana University School of Law.

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