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Law is all about human life, yet struggles to keep life at bay. This is especially true of the criminal trial. With the public typically ranking crime our country's most important problem, the criminal trial reflects and ignites large passions. Yet it usually seeks to exclude much of that passion from its stage as the trial proceeds with its structured process of legal proof and judgment.

Maintaining the boundary between the courtroom and ordinary life is a central part of what legal process is all about. Distinctive legal rules of procedure, jurisdiction, and evidence insist upon and define law's autonomous character—indeed constitute the very basis of a court's authority. The mob may have their faces pressed hard against the courthouse windows, but the achievement of the trial is to keep those forces at bay, or at least to transmute their energy into a stylized formal ritual of proof and judgment.

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