Prosecutors And Defenders
Federal and state criminal courts follow precise rules of law to ensure the fairness of their proceedings regardless of a defendant's race, religious or political beliefs, or who they associate with. The courts do, however, have flexibility. Judges make decisions at every step on how a trial will proceed. Such decisions include how and where a defendant is held, jury selection, the trial itself—including what evidence may be allowed—and sentencing. Two defendants charged with similar crimes may have totally different experiences due to the details of their case and the judge presiding over their trial.
Criminal trials are based on an adversarial system, which means the prosecutor and defense attorney present their arguments and evidence concerning the guilt or innocence of the defendant within the framework of very precise rules. The adversarial process is designed to ensure fairness, giving both sides the opportunity to make their case.
Prosecutors, often known as district attorneys or prosecuting attorneys in federal courts, are public officials who represent the government in criminal cases. They are often elected or appointed to their positions. In state courts, prosecutors may be the state attorney general. Prosecutors are responsible for guiding a case from beginning to end; they start by filing charges against a defendant, attend the arraignment (a formal reading of the charges before a judge), participate in bail hearings, present the case at trial, and attend sentencing if the defendant is found guilty. Since the court system could not handle the caseload created if every case led to charges and a trial, prosecutors must decide what charges will be filed, if any, against whom. They usually select cases with the best chances of conviction.
The person charged with a crime, the defendant, is represented by a defense attorney. The defense attorney is responsible
for seeing that the constitutional rights of the defendant are protected and for presenting the best possible defense. The defense attorney represents the person from the time of arrest through sentencing (if found guilty) and may decide to appeal the case.
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution provides anyone accused of a crime the right to a defense attorney in federal cases. If a person cannot afford to hire a defense attorney, then the federal government provides one. States also provide attorneys for the poor if the criminal charges lead to imprisonment. Public defenders are attorneys appointed by the court for offenders who cannot afford their own lawyers. Sometimes public defenders are well-known private defense attorneys who provide services for free, known as working "pro bono."
- Criminal Courts - Bringing A Case To Trial
- Criminal Courts - International Criminal Courts
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