What happens at the courthouse?
Most of us try to avoid going to the courthouse. Then there are those whose job is in the courthouse. Somebody has to work there, right? There are times when it is necessary to make a trip to the local courthouse. Chances are, you don’t know anyone that hasn’t had to visit one for some reason.
What is a courthouse anyway? In North America, the word courthouse refers to a building where the local law and regional county government operate from and function with the public. When we hear the word courthouse, the first thought that comes to mind is legal problems. Legal problems like arrests, divorces and child custody, lawsuits, and matters similar, but aren’t the only Courthouse procedures that take place inside a courthouse.
What comes to mind for most Americans when they hear the world courthouse is where trials take place. A trial is where evidence form two or more parties is presented by those parties or their lawyer, to the court of law. Trials are held in a specific courtroom and could be a civil matter, like a divorce or lawsuit, or it may be a criminal case, such as a drug charge, speeding ticket, or more serious crimes.
During a trial, several people are present and have some level of participation in the proceeding.
- The Judge: This person will sit “on the bench” and presides over a trial and has a fair and unbiased opinion of the proceedings or either party involved.
- Lawyers: All parties involved in the proceedings have the right to a lawyer. A lawyer presents and protects the client’s side of the case being presented before the courts.
- Court Reporter: This person will be present during the trials and take notes of all conversations and actions during the proceedings.
- Defendants or Parties: If this trial is criminal, they are present with their lawyer. If this is a civil trial, both parties are present with their lawyers.
- Court Deputy: This is a member of the local law enforcement and is there to assist the judge if needed in restraining any person that is out of line.
- Witnesses: This is a person or person that may be called to testify with the facts they have about a case.
- Jury: For a criminal trial and some lawsuits, a jury of 12 is present who will hear all testimony and then be required to come to a joint conclusion of guilty, not guilty, or if one party owes another party.
Who is in charge of a courthouse?
For this article, we will approach the subject with the view from a criminal court. The judge will preside over the courtroom, which puts them in charge of the courthouse. If the trial being held has a jury, which all criminal trials do, the judge will use point of the law to rule by and remind the jury of the laws that pertain to the case on hand and provide them instructions to review the evidence that has been presented to them to make their decision guilty or not guilty, and if guilty, to what extent. i.e., Murder in the first degree.’
What happens on your first court date?
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the first hearing that you’ll attend is called an arraignment and will take place in the courthouse. Whether you are guilty not, it is a scary experience, especially the first time. How long does a court arraignment take? Typically, approximately 10 minutes, some can take less time or more time, especially if the accused has been arrested before.
In the courthouse, at this first court date, the judge states the charges that you’re facing and ask if you have any questions. These charges may be the same or could have been changed from what your initial arrest was for if the prosecutor and arresting officer did not agree with the crime, you’re being accused of committing.
The judge will ask how you do plea. If your plea is “not guilty” to the charges, a court date is set for a trial. Alternatively, you can plea “guilty” or “no contest” and the is resolved then. If your plea is “not guilty,” the judge will ask if you have an attorney or if not and you can’t afford one, a public defender will be assigned to your case.
How to handle a courthouse day
When your court date arrives, certain protocols will take place. Each person involved in your trial will have certain things that are expected of them, including you. When you know what to do at a courthouse, it can ease the anticipation. To that end, we offer the following courthouse day tips that can make your visit to the courthouse a little easier to understand:
- Prepare for how you may act while nervous.
- Know what to expect and read about courtrooms and the process of trials. The more you know, the less scary it will be.
- Have any paperwork your expected to have on hand and ready if you haven’t already turned it over to your attorney. Share anything you have with your attorney. They can better represent you when they have everything you have.
- Arrive at the courthouse early. Dress appropriately, most courthouses have a website with acceptable attire, and your attorney should review this with you. Turn your cell phone off, and some courthouses may hold the right to confiscate all cell phones. Do not bring a weapon with you. Many courthouses have metal detectors and alarms as you enter the courthouse doors.
- Be respectful to the court at all times. The court includes the judge, jury, witnesses, prosecutor, and all parties in the courtroom.
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