By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
The trial judge calls many of the crucial balls and strikes at trial including on which jurors are chosen to sit on the panel, what evidence the jury may hear, what arguments the lawyers may make, whether the case even makes it to the jury, and what formal instructions are given to the jury. While some judges see their role as a referee on the sideline — for better or worse — they play a far more important role.
If the Judge makes mistakes in their rulings — those can be appealed. Here’s why that’s not as easy as it sounds; (1) appeal can be extremely expensive if you don’t qualify as indigent; (2) the appeals courts rarely over-turn what happens in the trial court and often label the trial judge’s mistakes as “harmless error;” and (3) appeal takes a long time which means if you’re convicted at the trial court you may be serving probation or be sitting in jail waiting for the appeals court to look at the trial judge’s mistake (though you may be able to post an appeal bond).
For better or worse, I categorize Judges into two categories: weak and strong. Weak judges guess at the law and try to make “safe” rulings which won’t get them appealed. They often gravitate towards the prosecution because the feel safer ruling in their favor on close issues.
Strong judges know the law and aren’t afraid to disappoint the prosecution or the defense for that matter. Because strong judges give more predictable rulings, their dockets tend to be more efficient as a whole.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any specific case or matter you should directly consult an attorney.