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When Science Comes to Court: Self-Study Course on Forensic Evidence

The decision about whether forensic evidence is admitted rests squarely on the shoulders of the judge presiding over the case. Judges must be intimately familiar with the rules of evidence and whether evidence is admitted or received for a limited purpose (including how instruct if a jury trial). Several studies punctuate the importance of expert testimony, personal admissions, incriminating statements, and tangible (scientific and non-scientific) evidence in criminal cases – not just in determining culpability at trial, but in ruling on issues at the pre-trial and sentencing phases as well. However, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure were not drafted with today’s forensic evidence and expert testimony in mind. Judicial practice around admitting these types of evidence in light of evidentiary rules must continue to evolve. This web-based project promotes the fair and effective administration of justice and enhances public safety while helping judges make informed decisions about the role and weight of forensic evidence.

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After taking these six modules, you will be able to:

  • Contemplate the different objectives of law and science.
  • Evaluate and apply general evidentiary rules on the admissibility of forensic evidence.
  • Embrace the significant role that judges play at the intersection of law and science.
  • Identify substantive scientific issues that arise in a variety of forensic disciplines.
  • Relate those substantive scientific issues to the criteria for admissibility set forth by tests such as those announced in Daubert and Frye.
  • Describe the distinct roles for judge and jury in assessing proffered expert evidence, with the former responsible for determining admissibility and the latter for assessing weight.
  • Appreciate and exercise the judge’s role as gatekeeper.
  • Be sensitive to the various ethical issues that judges face in and out of court in cases involving forensic and scientific evidence.

Taking the Bench: A Free Online Course for New General Jurisdiction Judges

The National Judicial College designed this self-study course for general jurisdiction judges who have recently been elected or appointed but have not yet taken the bench. The course will also be valuable for judges who recently began their judicial careers. The course will take approximately seven to nine hours to complete. You may enroll in the course at any time. Once enrolled, you will have five weeks to complete the course. The course has three components: 1) Welcome to the Course, 2) Four Learning Modules, and 3) Help and Resources.

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1. Welcome to the Course

This section provides introductory information about the course. It also includes a short video from one of the developers.

2. Learning Modules

Module One: Transition from Bar to Bench

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Define “principled decision making.”
  • Differentiate between those community, political, business and financial activities that you are allowed to attend and those you are not.
  • Summarize their responsibilities for winding up a law practice (if relevant).
  • Describe those cases in which they must disqualify yourself or otherwise note on the record the associations you had with previous clients or organizations.
  • Recite the importance of a fair and impartial court system and the rationale behind judicial independence.
  • Identify the types of mental health issues personally faced by judges, new and experienced, and describe potential solutions.
  • State the impact that isolation has on some judges and describe possible options for alleviating it.
  • Define the positive aspects of being a judge.
Module Two: In the Courtroom

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe your contempt powers with an understanding that contempt is only to be used as a last resort.
  • Define the elements for making a successful record for appellate purposes.
  • Outline ways to avoid wasting time at trial.
  • Identify best practices for providing access to self-represented litigants.
  • Explain the importance of “procedural fairness.”
  • Summarize the role of judicial discretion and ways it can be exercised appropriately.
Module Three: Behind the Scenes
  • After completing this module, you will be able to:
  • Define more clearly your appropriate role in encouraging settlements.
  • Describe your role in caseflow management.
  • Determine whether you have a role in employment issues.
  • Identify the elements of effective judicial opinion writing.
  • Summarize the necessary components for an effective court interpreter program.
  • State the criteria you should consider in sentencing.
Module Four: The Judge, the Court, the Community
  • After completing this module, you will be able to:
  • Define when you may speak publicly about the justice system without jeopardizing fairness in cases before them.
  • Describe methods for dealing with the media with the ultimate goal of educating the public about the courts.
  • Identify ways to appropriately respond to criticism.
  • Summarize methods for ensuring the safety of themselves and their families.

3. Help/Resources

This section provides contact information in the event that the participant has difficulty navigating the site. The acknowledgments section contains brief biographies of the curriculum developers and the NJC’s course architects.

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If you have any questions about Taking the Bench, please contact the registrar’s office at (800) 255-8343 or at registrar@judges.org.

The NJC truly appreciates the support of the State Justice Institute and the Pillars of Justice. Without their funding, the NJC’s staff and faculty would not have been able to build this course.

Handling Inquiries from the Media: A Primer for Judges

Sponsored by the Rollan D. Melton Fund
Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Courts & Media

Notorious cases with high media interest can be assigned to you in any court. What should you do when a reporter calls or shows up on your doorstep with a camera crew in tow? Judges who need immediate help with these situations now have a resource at their fingertips.

This free online self-study course can help. NJC President Chad Schmucker spoke to judges recently about the course and said, “If you have such a case, or you may have such a case in the future, we want you to be prepared and we know you want to be prepared. We know you want to handle the case fairly, efficiently, and properly. That’s the goal of this course, and I’m sure it will help you achieve that goal.”

The course consists of three self-study modules designed to be completed in about two hours. Module One: Establishing Relationships and Developing a Media Plan; Module Two: What to Do When Reporters Contact You; and Module Three: Reporters and New Media in Your Courtroom.

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the policies in their jurisdiction relating to who is authorized to respond to media requests for information.
  2. Design a personal plan for developing relationships with journalists and other media personnel.
  3. Prepare an action plan for media requests of “attacks.”
  4. Issue orders related to conduct in the courtroom.
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About Rollan Melton

The late Rollan Melton was a noted journalist in Reno, Nevada, who was keenly interested in the relationship between the courts and the media. He held prominent leadership positions with Gannett including: 1) senior vice president in the Newspaper Division, 2) heading the Gannett West group 3) member of the Gannett Board of Directors and 4) a leading force for the creation of USA Today. He served multiple times on the Board of Trustees of The National Judicial College and was the Board’s secretary. Rollan understood the importance of fair and impartial courts in a democratic society and the courts’ role in ensuring that the government shall not “abridge the freedom of speech or of the press.”

Probate Matters: A Self-Study Online Course

The course is provided at no cost to judges through generous funding from the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel Foundation and the State Justice Institute.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections, the older adult population will double between 2010 and 2030. As the population of America ages, probate courts will necessarily see an increase in the types of cases that they process – guardianships, conservatorships, elder abuse protection petitions, and matters pertaining to estates.

This primer on probate consists of four self-study modules designed to be completed in about four to six hours. Each of the following modules has readings, checklists, quizzes, and other interactive features to engage the judge in the material. The four modules are:

  • The Decedent’s Estate
  • Trust Administration
  • Guardianships and Conservatorships
  • Fiduciaries and Accounting

During this course, you will learn to:

  1. Define terminology used in a multitude of probate proceedings.
  2. Describe the steps toward administering trusts, wills, fiduciary appointments, and other probate matters.
  3. Appoint and manage fiduciaries, guardians, and other persons with duties recognized by law with confidence.
  4. Decide on appropriate remedies for breach of fiduciary duty.
  5. Review fiduciary accountings with confidence.

This course qualifies for The National Judicial College Certificate in Judicial Development program General Jurisdiction Trial Skills and Special Court Trial Skills disciplines.

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This course may be eligible for Continuing Legal and Judicial Education (CLE/CJE) credits under most state boards/bars/commissions. Please check with the state which you intend to file with regarding filing requirements for CLE/CJE consideration. CLE/CJE credit hour estimates* are 4-6 hours total credits. There are no ethics credits available. All CLE/CJE estimated credit hours are based upon a 60 minute hour. Completion of all modules, quizzes and evaluation is required to receive a certificate of completion.

*Estimated credits are subject to review by state boards/bars/commissions.

DWI Court Enhancement: A Self-Study Web Course

This online self-study web course takes the new or seasoned DWI Court professional through basic DWI Court information. You will become acquainted with the Guiding Principles for DWI Courts, DWI Court target population, case management techniques such as clinical assessment, treatment, community supervision and many more elements directly related to their day-to-day court activities.

Issues addressed include the evaluation and sustainability of the Court’s community partnerships. This online course offers not only basic information, but a wealth of resources. The course is sponsored by the National Drug Court Institute and The National Judicial College with funding through the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

You will have 60 days to complete the online study modules, which take approximately 16 hours to complete. A Certificate of Completion issued by NJC/NDCI is available when you successfully complete a final online assessment.

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For more information about his course, contact David Wallace at the National Center for DWI Courts at (703) 575-9400, ext. 32 or dwallace@nadcp.org, or Bryan D. Walker at The National Judicial College at (800) 255-8274 or bryanwalker@judges.org.