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January 2017


A jury’s role in a criminal case is to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant. In accordance with this role, the jury must also judge the facts of the case. In order to make its factual determination, the jury is instructed on the law by a trial court. The trial court sets forth the law in written instructions that are delivered to the jury before the prosecution and the defense make their closing arguments. The jury is not permitted to receive the law from any source other than the trial court.


When an accused has been charged with an offense, he has a choice of whether to enter a not guilty, a no contest, or a guilty plea. A not guilty plea is a plea in which the accused does not accept responsibility for the charged offense. After the accused has entered a not guilty plea, the matter is set for trial. Pre-trial procedures and trial preparations then begin.


A defendant is guaranteed the right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The right to a public trial is also an element of the defendant’s due process rights, which rights are guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. In addition, states have enacted provisions in their constitutions that guarantee a defendant’s right to a public trial.


A defendant in a criminal prosecution is guaranteed the right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution unless the prosecution is for a petty offense. A petty offense is defined as an offense that carries a penalty of no more than six months in jail.


Under the United States Code wiretaps are permitted after a proper application has been made for their usage. A wiretap is defined as a form of electronic surveillance whereupon law enforcement officers listen to phone conversations or other communications of certain individuals.


Criminal litigation involves the government’s prosecution of a person because of an alleged commission of a crime. Criminal laws (federal, state, and local statutes) define criminal offenses. Criminal behavior is punished by imposing a fine or imprisonment on the offender.


State legislatures have passed laws setting up various state administrative agencies. Some examples of state administrative agencies include public utilities commissions, worker’s compensation bureaus, motor vehicle bureaus, and natural resources departments. State agencies exercise powers delegated to them by the state legislature.


If a litigant is dissatisfied with the trial court’s judgment, the litigant can file an appeal. The party who files the appeal is called the appellant; the other party is called the appellee or respondent. This article discusses the steps in the state appellate procedural process.


The independence of the judiciary is a central principle of a democracy. Judicial independence permits judges to make rulings based on legal principles instead of politics or public opinion. An independent court system allows fair and impartial decisions in legal cases. Political scientists have conducted research and studies to identify what factors influence a judge’s decision-making.


Amicus curiae is a Latin term meaning “friend of the court.” An amicus curiae is not a party to the lawsuit but is a person or group that has a strong interest in the matter being litigated.