There are juries in federal court just like in state court and everywhere else in America. Federal criminal cases will typically be heard by a judge and jury, though there are some instances where someone can request to have a judge as the case’s fact finder. Call an experienced Virginia federal criminal lawyer to discuss how to proceed with your case. He or she can also provide you with valuable information about the role judges play throughout the case process.
The biggest difference between a federal judge and a state judge is that a federal judge at the district court level and above is a lifetime appointment. This means that once that person is elevated to the bench, they are there for as long as they want to serve as judge in that court. State judges are elected by the Virginia legislature and they must be reelected every time their term comes up.
Judges at the federal level generally have more time to devote to each individual case on their docket. In many jurisdictions the federal docket is not quite as robust as it is in state jurisdictions. This means the federal docket is somewhat less cluttered than the state court docket and judges at the federal level are able to devote more attention to each case. Additionally, most federal trials last longer than a few days, whereas in state court the vast majority of trials last a day or less. Because of that, the judges have an opportunity to become more intimately familiar with the facts of each case.
The magistrate judges are the gateway to the U.S. District Court judges. That is the best way to think of it. When you are arrested on a federal felony, your first stop is going to be in magistrate’s court. A magistrate court is going to conduct the initial appearance, conduct a probable cause hearing, and also conduct a detention or bond hearing if necessary. All of those things take place in the magistrate court. The magistrate court is a very important piece of the federal puzzle.
In Virginia federal felony cases, the judge monitors the trial and acts as the referee in the courtroom. If a party makes an objection, the judge has to rule on it, but the judge is usually not responsible for sitting as the finder of fact. The only thing the judge can do is make legal rulings, not factual ones. The judge is also charged with the responsibility of jury instructions. Jury instructions are in many cases the most important part of a trial. This is because jury instructions are read to the jurors before they retire to deliberate their verdict. The jury is instructed by the court as to the law surrounding the charges and how to view the evidence in relation to those charges.
In a federal case, the jury pool is going to come from a wider swath of society from a geographic standpoint. If you are being charged, for example, in the City of Alexandria in state court, then the only people eligible to serve on that jury are residents of the City of Alexandria. However, if you are being tried in the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, the jury can come from all over Northern Virginia. Each U.S. District Court has its own specific jurisdictional boundaries from which they can pool potential jurors.
Juries play a huge role in a federal criminal case, and you should speak with your Virginia federal criminal attorney to discuss in more detail their specific role in these cases.