To make a decision or reach a conclusion after examining all the factual evidence presented. To form an opinion after evaluating the facts and applying the law.
A public officer chosen or elected to preside over and to administer the law in a court of justice; one who controls the proceedings in a courtroom and decides QUESTIONS OF LAW or discretion.
As a verb the term judge generally describes a process of evaluation and decision. In a legal case this process may be conducted by either a judge or a jury. Decisions in any case must be based on applicable law. Where the case calls for a jury verdict, the judge tells the jury what law applies to the case.
As a noun judge refers to a person authorized to make decisions. A judge is a court officer authorized to decide legal cases. A judge presiding over a case may initiate investigations on related matters, but generally judges do not have the power to conduct investigations for other branches or agencies of government.
Judges must decide cases based on the applicable law. In some cases a judge may be asked to declare that a certain law is unconstitutional. Judges have the power to rule that a law is unconstitutional and therefore void, but they must give proper deference to the legislative body that enacted the law.
There are two types of judges: trial court and appellate. Trial court judges preside over trials, usually from beginning to end. They decide pretrial motions, define the scope of discovery, set the trial schedule, rule on oral motions during trial, control the behavior of participants and the pace of the trial, advise the jury of the law in a jury trial, and sentence a guilty defendant in a criminal case.
Appellate judges hear appeals from decisions of the trial courts. They review trial court records, read briefs submitted by the parties, and listen to oral arguments by attorneys, and then decide whether error or injustice occurred in the trial.
Judges can also be distinguished according to their jurisdiction. For example, federal court judges differ from state court judges. They operate in different courtrooms, and they hear different types of cases. A federal court judge hears cases that fall within federal jurisdiction. Generally, this means cases that involve a question of federal law or the U.S. Constitution, involve parties from different states, or name the United States as a party. State court judges hear cases involving state law, and they also have jurisdiction over many federal cases.
Some judges can hear only certain cases in SPECIAL COURTS with limited subject matter jurisdiction. For example, a federal BANKRUPTCY court judge may preside over only bankruptcy cases. Other special courts with limited SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION include tax, probate, juvenile, and traffic courts.
Justices make up the upper echelon of appellate judges. The term justice generally describes judges serving on the highest court in a jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions a justice may be any appellate judge.
Judges are either appointed or elected. On the federal level, district court judges, appellate court judges, and justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president subject to the approval of Congress. On the state level, judges may be appointed by the governor, selected by a joint ballot of the two houses of the state legislature, or elected by the voters of the state.
On the federal level, judges have lifetime tenure. Most state court judges hold their office for a specified number of years. If a state court judge is appointed by the governor, the judge's term may be established by the governor. In some states a judge's term is fixed by statute. All state jurisdictions have a mandatory retirement age. In New Hampshire, for example, a judge must retire by age 70 (N.H. Const. pt. 2, art. 78). There is no mandatory retirement age for justices and judges on the federal level.
Judges' retirement benefits are provided for by statute. On the federal level, a retiring judge may receive for the remainder of the judge's life the salary that she or he was receiving at the time of retirement. To qualify for retirement benefits, a judge must meet minimum service requirements. For example, a judge who retires at age 65 must have served 15 years as a judge in the federal court system; at age 66, 14 years; and so on until age 70 (§ 371). If a judge is forced to retire because of disability and has not qualified for benefits under § 371, the judge may still receive a full salary for life if she or he served 10 years. If the judge served less than 10 years, she or he may receive half of her or his salary for life (28 U.S.C.A. § 372).
Judges must follow ethical rules. In all jurisdictions statutes specify that a judge may hold office only during a time of good behavior. If a judge violates the law or an ethical rule, the judge may be removed from office. In jurisdictions in which judges are elected, they may be removed from office by popular vote or impeached by act of the legislature. In states where judges are appointed, the legislature or the governor is authorized to remove them from office, but only for ethical or legal violations. This is because the power of the judiciary is separate from and equal to the power of the legislative and executive branches, and unfettered control of the judiciary by the other two branches would upset the balance of power.
Judges are distinct from magistrates. Magistrates are court officers who are empowered by statute to decide pretrial issues and preside over minor cases. Their judicial powers are limited. In the federal court system, for example, magistrates may not preside over felony criminal trials. They may preside over civil trials and misdemeanor criminal trials, but only with the consent of all the parties (28 U.S.C.A. §§ 631–639).