I had my first, first-hand experience with the US judicial system two days ago and I am still reeling from the experience.
I ended up there because I was contesting a ticket and it was everything you might imagine - prosecution, defense (me), judge, witness stand, procedure, procedure, and procedure. Given my lack of experience, I brought some unintentional comic relief to the court. I kept interrupting with my questions ("Will I get to testify?") and running roughshod over procedure (me:"Can I show [the witness] my picture?" Judge: "Only if it is entered into evidence first."). Everyone but the prosecutor was smirking. It was no fun; I didn't take it too seriously; I survived. And this is what I learned:
-the judge sees nothing before the trial (not even the traffic report - this can be good or bad)
-most of the people who appear in traffic court are unemployed, underemployed, and this is related to their frequent appearance in court
-the clerk of court despises you (unless you're found innocent)
-the court fees are punitive (again, unless you're found innocent)
Frankly, I wasn't hopeful going into it (I relied only on circumstantial evidence and the only other witness was hostile - so I didn't call her to testify). I am still a little incredulous but there it is in black and white. (It is very fuzzy but I read that as a 'not guilty.')