In criminal law and sociology alike, proceedings in criminal court are considered to be the central stage of the criminal process, although for very different reasons. From the viewpoint of law, the rules governing court proceedings best express a commitment to the ideals of a legal system that respects citizens’ rights to self-determination and protection from state power. Sociologists, in contrast, maintain that criminal courts are sites of degradation and humiliation, with court rituals and language serving to suppress precisely those rights of participation in court communication and interaction that are thought to be the hallmark of modern criminal procedures. Observational data on juvenile courts yield a picture that departs in important ways from both the legal and the sociological models. Defendants indeed can and do voice their objections to the accusations raised against them (as the legal model has it), but these objections are largely disregarded by the judges, mostly on the grounds of witness testimony. Thus, while communication appears to be taken seriously; actually only lip service is paid to the ideal of court proceedings as discourse and dialogue. Both the legal and the sociological view appear to overestimate the significance of court proceedings, because the outcome of cases that com to court is largely pre-determined by the evidence prepared by the prosecution.