Justice Building Blog: So Now You’re A Judge In Criminal Court

Just spoke with a defense attorney who stated this incredible post by Justice Building Blog should be required reading at judicial investitures.  Big Smile.  A lot of good feed back by some readers of this piece, thought I should post in its entirety instead of just linking this gem.  Hope you enjoy and are thought provoked.

SO NOW YOU’RE A JUDGE IN CRIMINAL COURT, Justice Building Blog

So now you’re a judge in criminal court. You drew the short straw in the New Year judicial rotation and ended up at the confluence of NW 12th Street and 12th Avenue; just a stone’s throw from the Miami River.
You’ve decorated your chambers, entered the phone numbers into your cell phone, found your parking spot, frowned at the dearth of good lunch places nearby.Now what?  A few helpful hints.1. The REGJB opened in 1962 and has been full of judges ever since. It will be full of judges long after you leave. You are not indispensable. Anybody can deny a motion to suppress, deny a continuance, deny an objection, read the jury instruction on reasonable doubt, tally up and impose a maximum sentence, and come down from the bench like Moses off the mountain, robes flowing, and graciously hand jurors a certificate of thanks. You can and will be replaced and life will go on without your brilliant legal insights. So just try and do the best you can for the people who appear in court.

2. You’re the Judge. You make the call. You can call your friends, the administrative judges, or whomever about WHAT an arthur hearing is, but you can’t call them to ask what you should do. You wanted the job, you make the call. It’s not fair to the parties to have another judge, who didn’t hear the evidence, make the decision.

3. When a lawyer asks for a continuance because they are going away, do not show your ignorance as a trial lawyer by asking when they are coming back and setting the trial for the next day. It takes a lot to get a case ready for trial, and no one wants to spend their vacation worrying about the trial set to begin the day after they come back.

4. The prosecution is not always right. And when they are wrong, innocent lives are ruined. Never forget that. When the job seems mundane and it’s just another boring burglary trial of  GORT/PERP who did it- and you make that call before the case begins- it’s time to transfer to family or civil.

5. No matter how good you were, it’s not your case. It’s the lawyer’s case. Let her try it.

6. No infant is born to parents who dream of him committing a crime. No child in kindergarten says they want to grow up to be a drug dealer or burglar or thief.  We don’t live in a fair world. The universe is indifferent. But behind the veneer of a defendant is a person with hopes and dreams. Most people are redeemable.

7. Before you sentence someone to prison, go to a prison. The great (and now former) Federal Judge John Gleeson took his staff every year to Danbury prison to see the effect on the people he sentenced.
We can’t think of one judge in Florida who does that on a regular basis.

8. Don’t revel in minimum mandatory sentences. All that means is that the Florida Legislature decided that the 24 year old prosecutor who has been in court all of six months has more wisdom about what should happen to the defendant that you do. Sucks if you really think about it.

9. One of the very best judges to ever grace the halls of the REGJB- USDC Judge Federico Moreno once sentenced a defendant below the guidelines on a murder (might have been a manslaughter) case AFTER trial. Because that’s what the facts called for. Losing a trial does not mean a defendant gets punished for going to trial. Being a tough sentencer does not mean you will work less- although judges have been buying into that faulty thinking for decades now. And do you really want to frighten an innocent person into pleading guilty? Is that why you became a judge?

10. The only reputation you will develop when you start voir dire at 3, openings at 6, and testimony at 7 is that you’re an idiot. Jurors will hate you, and the defendant will not get a fair trial. People will not whisper behind your back “that judge is amazing…s/he tried a case until midnight yesterday.” What they will do is repeat what you did with the words “ass”; “jerk”; “idiot”; “big-ego”; “robe-its” and such.

11. When the job is no longer fun, quit.

12. Change is the price of survival.

Go forth and do good. Do justice. Be wise. Be fair. Be nice. Read the motions you get. Have fun.

See you in court.

 
 
 

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