Judges and hearing officers apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. They also conduct pretrial hearings, resolve administrative disputes, facilitate negotiations between opposing parties, and issue legal decisions.
Judges commonly preside over trials and hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine whether the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search and arrest warrants.
Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and that the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.
In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win lawsuits.
Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and to prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.
The following are examples of types of judges and hearing officers:
Hearing officers, also known as administrative law judges or adjudicators, usually work for government agencies. They decide many issues, such as if a person is eligible for workers' compensation benefits, and if employment discrimination occurred.
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials and hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.
In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, magistrate, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges' work.
In federal and state court systems, district court judges and general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appeal court judges rule on a small number of cases, by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.