There are several groups that comprise the courtroom work group. These groups fulfill many functions, and all of their roles are interdependent. These groups have frequent and ongoing relationships in which they interact in a wide variety of manners and settings. Judges fulfill roles such as issuing warrants; making probable cause determinations; granting or denying bail; presiding over hearings; ruling on motions; and presiding over trials. Prosecuting attorneys represent the state in criminal cases. Defense attorneys, who may be privately retained or appointed, ensure that the defendant's rights are protected and defend their client throughout criminal proceedings. Other work group actors include law clerks, court clerks and administrators, jurors, witnesses, police officers, and the news media.
The seven characteristics that define the courtroom work group are that they exhibit authority relationships; display influence relationships; are held together by common goals; have specialized roles; use a variety of work techniques; engage in a variety of tasks; and have different degrees of stability and familiarity. The core members of the courtroom work group, which include judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, participate in courtroom processes with great frequency. They share common demographic characteristics, professional backgrounds, and a common perspective on court operations. Regular members, who include law enforcement personnel, expert witnesses, and the news media, all have frequent courtroom participation, but less participation than core group members. Occasional participants, who include jurors, crime victims, and litigants, participate in the court process on an infrequent or one-time basis. This group has very diverse training, values, and orientations.
The courtroom work group has different authority relationships. Judges are the supreme rulers of the court, as is reflected in their dress, the courtroom design, and the way they are addressed. However, the judge's authority is limited by the prosecutor's discretion, budgetary control, jurisdiction, sentencing guidelines, and appeals.
All work group members influence and are influenced by the other members, and members have different bases of power and areas of knowledge. Judges have formal authority and may direct actions of the court and the attorneys. Prosecutors have superior case knowledge and have discretion about what matters will go to trial. Defense attorneys are able to interview witnesses, obtain evidence through discovery, and file pretrial motions. The four common goals of the members are doing justice; maintaining group cohesion; disposing of the case load; and reducing uncertainty.
Their different bases of knowledge give group members various types of power and influence. Three interaction techniques that are frequently utilized are unilateral decisions, adversarial proceedings, and negotiations.
Stable and familiar relationships among the group members are more likely to lead to close working relationships. This often leads to better negotiations, less reliance on formalities, more utilization of informal arrangements, and the creation of cooperative relationships. Group interactions play a significant role in the way that one group member responds to another. There are occasionally outside factors that may create disruption to group goals. One example of this is California's Three Strikes Law.