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Answers to children's questions

Kids in class

We are sure you have heard the saying, "There is no such thing as a dumb question," and we believe that as well. So we encourage students to send us their questions. Here are some of the ones we have received so far.

Who is that person in the courtroom who is always typing?

What is a baliff?

What does a witness do?

How do you get picked on a jury?

What is the difference between a plaintiff's attorney, defense attorney, and the prosecuting attorney?

Why do lawyers represent criminals?

What is a law?

Why do people sue each other?

What happens when you break the law?

My parents are divorcing. Will I have to go to court?

How many of our U.S. presidents were lawyers?

 

Who is that person in the courtroom who is always typing?

That person is the court reporter, and he/she is not typing. The court reporter is using a steno machine to take down everything that is said in the courtroom. The machine produces shorthand notations that the court reporter uses to type the complete words. A diskette with the information is put into a computer that translates the steno to English. The court reporter must still proofread the words for accuracy. A person could not type fast enough to record everything that is said. That is why shorthand is used. Shorthand is the use of letter combinations to represent sounds, words, and phrases phonetically.

A court reporter’s job is very important, because he/she is producing the official court record of the trial. If an attorney or judge needs to see what was said during the trial, he/she refer to the court transcript.

A court reporter has to be alert, accurate, fast, dependable, and not distracted by what is going on in the courtroom.


What is a baliff?

A baliff is an officer of the court of law who has charge of the jurors and guards prisoners while they are in the courtroom. He/she also administers the oath to the witnesses.


What does a witness do?

A witness swears to tell the truth about things or events he/she has seen or experienced which relates to the trial. Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney (or the plaintiff’s attorney in a civil trial) can call witnesses to support their case. They can also ask questions of each other’s witnesses.


How do you get picked on a jury?

The process starts with you receiving a notice in the mail from the Court telling you that you "must" report to serve on jury duty.

You then join what could be a group as large as several hundred people in a room. The attorneys for the defense and the prosecution will ask you questions to determine if they want you to sit on the jury for their trial. They may want to know if you know anyone associated with the case or know anyone who has been a victim of the same crime that the defendant is accused of. They may want to know if you are for capital punishment (sentencing someone to death if found guilty). Both attorneys are able to "strike" a certain number of potential jury members. Often, you may report for jury duty and never be called to sit on a jury.


What is the difference between a plaintiff’s attorney, defense attorney, and the prosecuting attorney?

All three types of attorneys are important in our court system. The defense attorney represents the defendant who has been charged with a crime or who has been sued. The prosecuting attorney represents the government and presents the evidence against the defendant in a criminal case. A plaintiffÂ’'s attorney represents someone who is suing another person or organization in a civil action case.


Why do lawyers represent criminals?

Most of the time, lawyers represent people who have only been charged with a crime. Criminals are those people who have been convicted of a crime. However, sometimes lawyers do represent people who have already been convicted of one or more crimes. The reason in both cases is that our laws state that everyone deserves a fair trial, and everyone is presumed innocent until found guilty.


What is a law?

A law is a rule or method that has been established by a controlling authority. This authority, for most of our laws, is the United States Government. Laws have existed for centuries. Countries have different laws. Some cities and states in the United States have different laws, although most of the laws are the same. In some states, you can drive your car 70 miles per hour on the highways, while in other states you cannot drive over 65 miles an hour.

When someone says that it is illegal to do something, that means that you will break a law if you do it. Some laws are:

- It’s illegal to steal.
- It’s illegal to hit someone.
- It’s illegal to buy or sell illegal drugs.
- It’s illegal to threaten someone’s life.


Why do people sue each other?

People sue each other to force someone to give them justice (to make things right). They often sue to have the other pay money or to compel or cease a certain behavior. One example that you may be familiar with is that a singer or musician may sue his/her manager because he/she feels that the manager has stolen money or has misrepresented him/her. Celebrities, such as movie stars and professional athletes, often sue magazines who print things they feel are not true.

Sometimes, people sue their companies because they feel they were fired for no reason. Other people sue because they were hurt in an automobile accident and want the responsible person to pay for their medical expenses and pain and suffering.


What happens when you break the law?

It depends what type of law you break. Breaking some laws, such as speeding in your car or driving through a stop sign, normally results in a fine or possibly losing your driverÂ’s license. If you commit more serious crimes, such as killing someone or selling drugs, you will most likely go to jail. When you break the law, civil and criminal punishments, including jail time and fines, may be imposed.


My parents are divorcing. Will I have to go to court?

In most cases when parents are divorcing, the children do not have to appear in court. Most parents try to handle their divorces without having their children appear with them before a judge.

Many times both parents will share custody of their children, meaning that the children will spend time with both parents. If parents cannot agree on custody, a judge will make the decision for them.


How many of our U.S. presidents were lawyers?

There are 26 U.S. presidents who were lawyers.

 

John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Chester A. Arthur
James Buchanan
Grover Cleveland
William Jefferson Clinton
Calvin Coolidge
Millard Filmore
Gerald R. Ford
James A. Garfield
Benjamin Harrison
Rutherford B. Hayes
Andrew Jackson

Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
William McKinley
James Monroe
Richard M. Nixon
Barack Obama
Franklin Pierce
James K. Polk
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
William Howard Taft
John Tyler
Martin Van Buren
Woodrow Wilson