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American Government
Characteristics of a Trial -
Officers of the Court
The Jury, Evidence, Verdict

Officers of The Court

Elected by the voters or appointed by the governor of the state. Vested with the authority to listen to and decide questions of criminal and civil law. The judge supervises the trial and bears the responsibility that the parties receive a fair trial.

An attorney appointed by a majority vote of the municipal court judges to perform "subordinate" judicial duties (e.g., hear and determine a small claims case, conduct arraignment proceedings, as a traffic referee, marriages, etc.)

An attorney appointed by the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court to serve on a full- or part-time basis. A referee hears and determines juvenile matters.

A person licensed to practice law. Employed privately by individuals or business entities or by the government (offices of the Attorney General, District Attorney, Public Defender, or County Counsel) to prepare and present cases.

In a criminal case, the people of the state of Colorado are represented-sentenced by the District Attorney or the Attorney General's Office. They present evidence and must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused may: 1) retain (at his/her own expense) a private attorney; 2) be represented by an attorney from the Office of the Public Defender, if s/he does not have sufficient funds to hire an attorney; or 3) request that the Court appoint a private defense attorney in the event that the Public Defender is for any reason disqualified. An accused person may choose to represent him/her-self, but can ask the Court to appoint an attorney to assist him/her in presenting his/her case if s/he cannot afford his/her own. However, an attorney may not be forced to be co-counsel.

In civil cases, usually each party will hire his/her own attorney, but s/he may represent him/herself.

An officer of the Court assigned to enforce and monitor terms of formal probation ordered by the Court. S/he is also mandated to prepare pre-sentence reports and recommendations in accordance with Colorado Penal Code and the Judicial Council rules. In certain jurisdictions, the probation officer appears in Court as a representative of the probation department to offer reports and recommendations. She/he is usually of probation hearings.

Handles administrative functions of the courtroom. Maintains a court file of each case; administers the oath to witnesses, jurors, bailiff and court interpreters; marks, records and stores exhibits presented to the Court; and maintains by minute order the records of the Court proceeding(s).

Maintains an official verbatim record of the Court proceedings (must be present at all felony criminal, juvenile and some civil cases). Prepares written transcripts upon request.

Usually a deputy sheriff, deputy marshal or correctional officer responsible for keeping order in the courtroom. S/he has custody of the jury during its deliberation(s).


In a Criminal Case:
The defendant(s) may give up his/her right to be tried by a jury.
The defendant is only entitled to a jury trial if s/he can receive a jail or prison sentence.
If and only if the prosecutor agrees, a judge will hear the evidence and decide the case.

In a Civil Case (e.g., marital dissolutions, probate, injunctions, contract disputes, personal injury matters and juvenile cases):
Court hearings are decided by a judge and not a jury.
In some civil cases, where the plaintiff or victim is seeking a money judgment for damages or where mental competency is at issue, the parties may elect to have their case decided by either a judge or a jury.


In a Criminal Case, the Jury:
Hears the evidence.
Decides issues of fact.
Decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of the charges filed by the district attorney.
In a case where a reasonable doubt exists in the jury's mind, they will return a verdict of "not guilty."
If the jury does not reach a verdict: 1) the Court will declare a mistrial, or upon its own motion, dismiss the case in the interest of justice; 2) the case may be dismissed by the district attorney; or 3) the defendant may be tried by another jury at the discretion of the district attorney.

In a Civil Case, the Jury Determines:
If the plaintiff has been damaged or wronged by the action(s) of the defendant(s).
This determination must include three (3) basic issues: liability, proximate cause and damages, which must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence.
The amount of money or damages to be awarded to the victim.
You must note that a finding of liability must precede the ascertainment of damages.
The mental competence of the respondent party to care for him/herself.


The Jury:
Consists of twelve (12) fair and impartial citizens. However, the parties can stipulate to a fewer number of jurors. Also, one (1) or more alternate jurors may be selected.
Is selected by the attorneys and the judge.
Is sworn by the court clerk to try the case.
Receives instructions from the judge on the law and their duties as jurors.

Give the clerk your undivided attention when being sworn.
Do not raise your hand to take the oath until requested to do so by the clerk.
Maintain the dignity of the Court.
Avoid joking around.
Avoid off-handed remarks.

NOTE: The Oath that you will take as a witness to testify in a case will closely resemble the following: "You do solemnly swear that the testimony you shall give in this cause now before the Court, to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."


The attorneys for both sides make an opening statement detailing what their evidence will show.
The district attorney (or the plaintiffs attorney in a civil case) will go first because s/he has the burden of proving his/her case.

Evidence that the attorneys present may often include:
Witness testimony offered from anyone who has personal knowledge of facts.
Exhibits such as drugs, broken chair, burglary tools, weapons, pictures or documents.
Stipulations offered by all the attorneys to accept certain facts as evidence without further proof in order to reduce the amount of trial time.

When all the evidence has been submitted to the Court the attorneys sum up the case, as they see it, to the jury. This is called a closing argument.
It gives the attorneys a chance to try to persuade the jury panel to decide the case in their client's favor.
The district attorney (or the plaintiffs attorney in a civil case) will argue the case to the jury first, and last in rebuttal, because s/he has the burden of proving their case.


The Jury
Is instructed by the judge on the law.
Retires to deliberate by applying the law to the facts of the case.

In a Criminal Case:
All twelve (12) jurors must agree that guilt has been established "beyond a reasonable doubt."

In a Civil Case:
It only takes three-fourths of the jurors to reach a verdict based upon a preponderance of the evidence.

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Trial and Judicial System Information
Officers of the Court / Characteristics of a Trial
Courtroom Demeanor / How to Dress for Court
Testifying in Court - The DOs and DON'Ts

Trial Tactics and Tricks Used by Attorneys
Common Trial Objections During Testimony
Courtroom Definitions

(Printer Friendly Version of Info Above)

Class Activity
The Trial of Goldilocks

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