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,
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.