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What Is a Courtroom?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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When a legal dispute arises, or someone has been charged with a crime, the proceedings take place in a courtroom. The appearance of a courtroom may be significantly different depending on the jurisdiction, as well as the type of case being litigated. At a bare minimum, a judge, magistrate, or commissioner will be found in a courtroom, as well as someone to officially report the proceedings and the parties to the litigation.

The appearance and layout of a courtroom may range from cavernous, formal, and ornate to intimate, informal, and casual. The Supreme Court of the United States, for instance, hears cases in a courthouse that was first used in 1790 and retains the grandeur and formality of its age. At the other end of the spectrum, many administrative law hearings are held in agency offices with no formal reminders of a traditional courthouse. The average courtroom, however, falls somewhere between the two, having the look and feel of a place worthy of respect, but where business is also conducted on a regular basis.

The judge often sits on the "judge's bench" in the front of the room slightly elevated above the rest of the courtroom. On either side of the judge may be found the bailiff and court reporter whose jobs are to keep order in the room and officially report on the proceedings, respectively. Facing the judge in front of the room are two tables for the parties to the action and their respective counsel. Behind the parties is where the spectators sit in what is called the gallery. Along the sides, there is generally room for the jury to sit when convened to hear and decide a case.

A jury may be called upon to hear and decide either a civil or criminal case. Jury selection as well as the number of people that make up a jury will differ from one jurisdiction to the next; however, the job of a jury remains the same. The jury members are charged with listening to the evidence presented by both parties and render a decision at the end of the trial.

All types of judicial proceedings are heard in a courtroom, from initial arraignments to sentencing in criminal matters, and from preliminary hearings to jury trials in civil cases. Upon entering a courtroom, proper respect should be given to the judge and the judicial process. No one should talk unless spoken to by the judge or another member of the court staff.

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Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Sep 24, 2011

@ceilingcat - I can understand feeling uncomfortable. Once I had to go observe some court proceedings for a class I was taking. I felt a bit out of place, but luckily our teacher had told us ahead of time how to dress and how to act.

She warned us that certain objects can't be brought into a courthouse, such as a pocket knife. She also told us that you should dress more formally for a courtroom than a regular day. She suggested business casual attire.

Even though I was a little intimidated about just going into a courtroom and observing, thanks to my teachers preparation, I actually blended right in.

By ceilingcat — On Sep 24, 2011

@shell4life - Courtrooms are pretty intimidating! I accompanied my (now ex) boyfriend to court for some major traffic violations once. I felt very uncomfortable even though I wasn't the one in trouble.

On the other hand, I guess my boyfriend wasn't intimidated enough. He didn't even get a lawyer to help him with his case and he ended up getting a pretty harsh sentence considering the nature of the infraction. I can't help thinking if he'd taken the whole process a bit more seriously and gotten a lawyer things would have gone a bit better for him.

By Perdido — On Sep 23, 2011

I try to avoid courtrooms at all costs. I had to be a spectator in one when my boyfriend was on trial for a crime he did not commit. The prosecution had no DNA evidence. They sent him to prison for a long time based only on circumstantial evidence.

So, a courtroom is a source of bad memories for me. Several people think I’m horrible for this, but I never registered to vote, because I heard that people are selected for jury duty from a list of registered voters.

I can’t bear to sit where those jurors sat who convicted my boyfriend. I am willing to surrender my rights as a voter to avoid facing this pain.

By shell4life — On Sep 23, 2011

I had to drive my friend to a courtroom because she had lost her license due to several DUIs. I had to wait with her in the gallery until the judge called her name, because they needed to see that she didn’t drive herself there.

Dozens of people were there for various reasons, mostly traffic ticket related. We waited while several others approached the bench and spoke to the judge. I felt intimidated and anxious, even though I wasn’t in any sort of trouble.

The judge sat in an elevated area, and perhaps this added to my intimidation. All he did to my friend was tell her the amount of her fine. She paid it and got her license back without any further punishment.

All my anxiety had been for nothing. I don’t even think she was as nervous as I was.

By Mykol — On Sep 23, 2011

When I had to serve on jury duty, it was for a civil case that didn't last very long. There was also a criminal case that was going on at the same time in the courthouse that had some media coverage.

Even though the layout of both rooms is pretty much the same, the atmosphere in the criminal courtroom was certainly different than the civil courtroom where I was.

I am glad that I didn't have jury duty for the criminal trial. This ended up being a long trial, and I think would have been a much harder emotional experience too.

By SarahSon — On Sep 22, 2011

Being in a courtroom can be a little intimidating if this is your first experience. Once when my son was 16, he got a speeding ticket and mistakenly handed the policeman outdated insurance papers.

When he realized his mistake and showed the policeman the current papers, the ticket had already been made out. It was then his responsibility to go to court and show the judge that he had current insurance papers when he received the ticket.

Even though I was frustrated by this because he had the current papers on him, it was a real learning experience for my son.

It was kind of scary for him to walk in that courtroom and approach the judge when it was his turn. I hoped it had enough of an impact on him that it would make him a more cautious driver in the future.

We were in a small room of the courthouse with a courtroom layout that wasn't as big as what my son had seen on TV. Hearing his name called and standing before the judge was what seemed the most intimidating for him.

By mutsy — On Sep 22, 2011

Every time I think of courtroom procedures I can stop thinking about the movie, “My Cousin Vinny”. It was so funny because Joe Pesci who played the lawyer defending Ralph Macchio’s character had never tried a case before and made all kinds of courtroom etiquette mistakes.

First of all, this lawyer came to the courtroom dressed in a leather jacket and did not address the judge by the traditional “Your Honor”. He addressed the judge as he would a friend off the street. It was so funny.

He also used slang and was not prepared for much of the trial. The best part of the movie was when he asked his girlfriend played by Marisa Tomei to take the stand as an expert courtroom witness which stunned everyone because she knew so much about how cars functioned and everyone thought she was just another pretty face. They actually won the case because of her testimony.

By SauteePan — On Sep 21, 2011

@Sunny27 - People want to hear about criminal cases and are more engaged in the criminal justice system as a result. Learning about courtroom procedures is valuable to a lot of people. By watching a trial you also learn about courtroom evidence and what is admissible and what is not. You also get to see how both courtroom attorneys develop their cases.

This can be a learning tool for a lot of people especially if justice prevails in the end. I realize that when a trial is televised it does create a heightened awareness of this particular trial, but sometimes there might be some effective dialogue that people can have because of it. For example, the OJ Simpson case raised the issue of domestic violence while the Casey Anthony trial highlighted child abuse.

While you can say that both of these cases were sensationalized it did bring more attention to causes relating to the victim’s rights in these respective areas.

By Sunny27 — On Sep 20, 2011

I think that when cameras are allowed in the courtroom it tends to change the courtroom terms a bit. More of the people involved tend to play up to the cameras and become more dramatic than they normally would have been in order to look good in front of the cameras.

They are more focused on their appearance than representing the people involved. This is why I think that court cases should not be televised because it tends to turn a trial into a circus.

The justice system should be respected and not turned into another reality show by allowing cameras in the courtroom. The OJ Simpson trial was a perfect example. The people ordinary people involved in that case became famous because the trial was on television every day. I think that when a case becomes this huge it overshadows other important cases that we never hear about in the media.

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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