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The Role of a Judge and the Role of a Jury

Posted on in Criminal Law

role of a judge, Crystal Lake criminal defense attorneyThe legal system is filled with many different people playing many different roles: injured parties, defendants and attorneys. There are two particular roles, however, that can be difficult to decipher: a judge and a jury. While most people know which is which, their roles certainly look like they overlap at times. After all, both make decisions affecting the outcome of a personal injury case, and sometimes a judge can end up doing the job of a jury if the parties select that option. In the end, the distinction between the two is that judges tend to make decisions about “questions of law,” while juries make decisions about “questions of fact.”

Questions of Law and Questions of Fact

Questions of law and questions of fact are the two legal categories of which the parties to a case can argue. As their names suggest, questions of law are uncertainties in the legal landscape, while questions of fact are uncertainties about what actually happened.

Consider the example of a killing committed by a homeowner, on his front porch, after an intruder had pointed a gun at him. Illinois law allows a person to use deadly force when defending his or her own life, and when attempting to prevent the commission of a felony “in [their] dwelling.” If the homeowner were charged with murder, he would argue both that he feared for his life, and that he was preventing a felony “in [their] dwelling.”

The question of whether the homeowner feared for his life would be a question of fact for the jury. The jury would need to decide whether the intruder had actually threatened the homeowner with a gun. The question of whether standing on the front porch qualifies as being “in [their] dwelling” is a question of law. The judge would need to interpret it.

The Judge and Questions of Fact

Additionally, there are a couple ways in which judges can end up ruling on questions of fact, or at least, things that look like questions of fact. One of these ways is through a bench trial. In a bench trial, there is no jury. A judge is in charge of making both legal and factual decisions. Many people opt for this type of trial in cases that are especially dry or legally complex, since judges will be more likely to grasp the case completely. Judges can also end up ruling on factual questions early in a case, usually specifically in instances where the evidence so overwhelmingly proves a fact that there is no reason to send it to the jury.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

A legal procedure can be a complex web. Fortunately, victims do not have to go through it alone. An experienced Crystal Lake criminal defense attorney can help you better understand you legal rights and options. Call 800-338-3833 to schedule a consultation today.

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