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Judicial Decision Making in the Trial Court

NCJ Number
A B Bartell
Date Published
23 pages
This paper focuses on the factfinding and decisionmaking processes of the trial judge and argues that trial judges form hypotheses regarding the 'facts' in a case, how the law applies, and the nature of a just result.
In appellate courts, facts found in the trial court are virtually immune from appellate review and are rightfully taken as 'given.' The trial judge, on the other hand, is faced with contrasting presentations and interpretations of the 'facts' in an adversarial context. Differing applications of the law are also brought to bear on contested facts. The trial judge's decisionmaking must determine what are the facts and the proper application of the law to these facts. To bring order to the confusion of contested facts and theories of law, the trial judge decides cases by hypothesis or a series of tentative hypotheses increasing in certainty. These hypotheses are formed from the moment they become aware of the case. These tentative hypotheses are based on what judges think the evidence will be or has shown, how the law may apply to those factual premises, and whether the result is reasonable and just. Given this dynamic in decisionmaking, judges should be encouraged to consider all possible hypotheses and combinations of factual resolutions and legal conclusions before finally settling on one view of the case.


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