Who might show up in court to watch a criminal case?

Court staff aside, the people who are present in the courtroom may vary depending on the stage of your case. For example, at an arraignment, the gallery might be full of defendants waiting for their cases to be called, and their lawyers might be sitting in the jury box. During trial, interested members of the public might be there to simply watch the proceedings.

Regardless of the stage involved, many kinds of people take interest in criminal cases. At the same time, it’s not uncommon for the courtroom to be almost empty—circumstances vary from case to case.

Among the people who might be in a courtroom and have an interest in a case are:

  • Police officers. The police officers who arrested the accused or the officers investigating the crime may be in court to testify about the arrest or investigation, or just to let the prosecution know they are interested in the outcome of the case. (If they will be witnesses, however, the judge should exclude them from the courtroom at least until they testify.)
  • Victims. For many years regarded as peripheral, victims now play a greater role in the criminal justice process. Frequently, they attend every court session to observe. They may even speak to the judge during sentencing about the crime’s impact on their lives and the type of sentence they think is appropriate. Sometimes victims’ attorneys come to watch—if, for example, they are suing the defendant in civil court. (For more on victim participation, see Victims' Rights.)
  • Advocates. Personnel from both governmental and nonprofit victim/witness assistance programs sometimes counsel and accompany victims or witnesses to court.
  • Probation officers. Probation officers who are assigned to investigate the defendant’s background and prepare a report to help the judge decide on a sentence might come to court and address the judge. (See Sentencing Hearings and Probation Reports.)
  • Family and friends. The defendant’s or victim’s (or even witness’s) loved ones might be there to lend moral support. A friend or employer may even have occasion to speak, such as when a judge is considering bail  and wants to know whether the defendant has a place to stay or work.
  • Reporters for newspapers and radio and television stations. These folks occasionally come to court, but don’t be offended if they don’t consider your case significant enough!
  • Courthouse groupies. Most court proceedings are open to the public. Some people come to the courtroom to watch because of simple curiosity. Others, like law students, may watch to learn.

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