A judge, sometimes known as a magistrate or a justice of the peace, is a criminal justice professional who works for a state or federal court. These individuals are responsible for ensuring that each trial is conducted in a fair and efficient manner. Judges explain complicated legal concepts to jurors, hear cases, identify illegal law enforcement activities, determine if law enforcement activities are in violation of individual rights, instruct jurors of their duties related to a case, and issue arrest and search warrants to law enforcement officers, and issue fines. In addition, judges listen to lawyers’ objections to determine their merit and review evidence to assure that it was collected appropriately. Judges determine if cases have sufficient evidence to go to trial, review legal motions to determine whether each motion should be carried out, research laws and regulations relating to a specific criminal offense, research other courts’ decisions in order to factor those findings into his or her own decisions, sentence criminals following conviction, and perform a variety of other tasks.
Four types of judges typically work in the criminal justice field. These four kinds of judges include administrative law judges, appellate court judges, municipal court judges, and general trial court judges.
- An administrative law judge is a criminal justice professional who hears cases related to the administrative regulations set by a federal agency. For example, an administrative law judge may hear cases for the Environmental Protection Agency.
- An appellate court judge hears cases already heard by another court.
- A municipal court judge hears cases related to misdemeanors and other minor offenses.
- A trial court judge hears cases related to felonies.
A judge typically earns between $50,000 and $140,000 a year, but some judges may make more or less than this amount depending on the area in which they work. In fact, a judge may make as little as $30,000 or as much as $163,000 a year in some areas. A judges’ earning potential depends not only on the area in which he or she works, but also on the type of court in which the judge works and the specific position the judge holds within that court. As a result, a judge who gains a position in a higher court such as a Federal Appellate Court, a State Supreme Court, or the U.S. Supreme Court can earn significantly higher than can other judges.
The requirements you must meet in order to become a judge vary according to state and court. However, most courts require you to have a bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. In addition, you must take and pass the bar examination for the state in which you are applying, obtain a license to practice law, and complete a judicial orientation program. You may be required to have experience in the law field before you begin working in some states.