How does a judge participate in a murder trial?

In a California murder trial, a judge has five main duties.  First, he or she will preside over the proceedings and ensure that order is maintained in the courtroom.  Second, the judge will determine the admissibility of evidence that the parties seek to introduce.  For example, if the prosecution wants to introduce evidence that the defendant had a previous conviction for an unrelated crime, the defense may argue that this evidence is inadmissible under the California Rules of Evidence.  It is the judge’s job to make a decision based on the facts and law to decide if that evidence should be allowed.

Third, the judge will give instructions to the jury about the law that applies to the case and the standards that it must use in deciding the case before it begins its deliberations.  This role is crucial, as knowing what law to apply — and how to apply it — can make the difference between a guilty and not guilty verdict in some cases.

Fourth, if the defendant in a California murder trial elects to be tried by a judge, rather than by a jury, then the judge will determine the facts and decide the case.  There are some situations where a defendant may prefer to have a judge hear his case, rather than a jury.  In these cases, there is no jury, and a judge will hear the evidence and render a verdict.

Fifth, if a defendant is found guilty, the judge will hold a sentencing hearing.  After listening to both sides present their arguments about the potential sentence, the judge will issue a sentence within the bounds of California law.

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