US CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM revised
US CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
The United States criminal justice system
Contrary to popular belief, the criminal process begins not with an arrest, but with the committing of a crime. The whole process, in fact, can be seen as a consequence of the breaking of the law, which then leads to an investigation and an arrest. What matters, however, is the nature of the crime. An act cannot be considered a crime based solely on intention or malice. It is considered so only if it violates a statute or law made and implemented by the congress, the constitution, or any public authority with legal jurisdiction. Additionally, a crime is only punishable by the state. The graver the nature of the crime, the more severe the sentence. Some culprits only have to serve a limited time, or pay a fine. Those tried for serious crimes like murder and treason, and levied a lifetime sentence, or a death penalty CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
In the United States, the most serious of crime are called felonies. Punishment for a felony can be serious: a year or more of prison time, or in some cases, the death penalty. Whether a crime can be considered a felony or not is, once again, decided by its nature, of which there are five categories according to the legal structure of the country:
Conventional crimes include robberies, property crimes, and in grave cases, murder, torture, and so on. These also depend on whether the execution of the crime involved violence, which can lead to more counts than just the act. For example, if a thief breaks into a house and beats up the owner, the counts would include breaking and entering, as well as assault CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Economic crimes are further divided into four categories – personal crimes, which are committed with malice towards another person; crimes that abused the trust of clients, such as businesses selling mortgages to people knowing they would fail; business crimes, which may not be directly incremental to the business, but may mislead people about it; and white collar and con-man cases CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Syndicated or organized crimes are committed by a group of people working in a hierarchy. They usually deal in a number of illegal activities, such as prostitution, drugs and gambling CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Political crimes include crimes committed by and against the government. These not only include treason and rebellion, but also acts of malpractice, treason and illegal activities carried out by the government against its own subjects or allies CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Consensual crimes are by far the hardest to convict, since there is often little to no evidence in such cases. Witness cooperation, too, is minimal. These include drug abuse, prostitution and other acts that include the consent of the parties involved CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Before a trial can be held in a federal or state court, an arrest has to be made. Although the criminal procedure makes the constitution its base, each state may exercise some of its own laws while prosecuting criminals.
There are two types of arrests in the United States: those that are made with a warrant, and those made without. To make a warranted arrest, a complaint has to be registered against a person in a precinct. The registered complaint is thus presented to and approved by a magistrate, only after which can the arrest be made CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
The arrests made without warrants rely widely on the discretion of the police officer, who may arrest someone who committed or is suspected of committing a crime in his vicinity. Trivial offenses, such as traffic violations, inebriation and gambling may be punished by levying only a warning. However, there are some cases where police officers have to push for prosecution and arrest. These include cases where the victim does not want to prosecute, such as property crimes. Cases in which a victim is involved in a relationship with a criminal also often fall under this category, except for domestic violence cases, which ask for extreme care and caution. Sometimes, the victim may refuse to cooperate, or may not prosecute under duress, or may be involved in misconduct – unless the authorities find themselves going to extreme measures for the case, an arrest cannot be made CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Appearance before a magistrate
The US law allows for a person to be detained by the police for 48 hours without a court hearing on whether said detention was justified. Additionally, there are a number of rules and laws that the suspect has to be made aware of during his or her arrest. These commonly include the Miranda rights, but may also expand to incorporate some additional laws as per the state’s ruling.
The arrest is then followed by an appearance before a lower level judicial officer, such as a judge, magistrate, or a commissioner. Said officer will decide whether the accused is to face further charges or be released on bail. In case of the latter, the amount of bail may not be excessive. Furthermore, bail may be granted in most cases except those with capital natures, where the officer believes that the accused has enough resources to pay any amount of bail set. In minor cases, the defendant may be directly asked to plead guilty or not guilty. If he or she pleads guilty, an appropriate punishment may be set. If not, a trial date for the earliest is scheduled.
In cases of felony, the officer decides whether the accused should be granted a preliminary hearing. If affirmative, the matter is then adjourned in the lower level court and a new stage begins CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
The Grand Jury (preliminary hearing)
A majority of states in the United States have abolished the Grand Jury system. A Grand Jury consists of a 16-23 person jury presiding over the case by looking at evidence and accusations. The evidence is presented by the prosecutor alone, and the accused and his attorney are unaware of the process. This is done to make sure that the jury stands between a possibly innocent man and a corrupt prosecution, and to determine whether the attorney has enough evidence to pull the state into the hassle of a new trial. Only then is a true bill passed CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
States that do not have a grand jury system hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough probably cause for bringing the accused to trial. Here, the accused has the right to cross-examine witnesses and turn in evidence of his or her own, although most defendants waive the preliminary hearing altogether CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
The arraignment follows the jury’s or the judge’s decision to bring the defendant to trial. The defendant may once again either plead guilty or not guilty. In case of the former, a punishment or fine may be imposed on the spot. However, a defendant may plead not guilty on counts of insanity, former jeopardy, or even no contest. In such cases, the judge may set a date for further trial. The accused may also go in for a plea bargain. If he or she does not choose to do so, a former trial is held CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Procedures during the trial
Selection of jurors
If the defendant does not want to be tried by a judge, he or she may elect to be tried by a jury. Twelve members of the jury are then elected and questioned to ensure the absence of any ulterior motives. This jury must reach a unanimous conclusion at the end of the trial. Any reasonable doubt may extend the trial further CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Opening statements, the prosecution’s case, and the case for the defence
After the jury has been elected, opening statements are made by both parties to apprise them of the case. Following that, the prosecution and the defence present their gathered evidence to the court. They may also call and cross examine witnesses on the stand so as to bring out pertinent information relevant to the case. Both the prosecution and the defence may also present evidence for rebuttal and surrebuttal to counteract the other’s claim. After the case has been made, the parties make closing arguments, and the decision is left to the authorities CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Procedures after a criminal trial
The sentencing is the formal announcement of the judgement for the defendant, where the time of punishment or penalty is decided. The time between the sentencing and the imposition of the same often spans weeks. This is done to allow the defendant to bring forward any post-trial motions or seek a probation officer for presentence investigation CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
All convicts have the chance to make at least one appeal during the course of their trial. The appeal is based on the notion that an error of law was committed during the trial, and that it may have affected the final outcome. These errors may either be harmless (that is, they had no effect whatsoever on the final outcome), or reversible (that is, they were serious enough to alter the final sentencing). In both cases, appropriate steps are then taken to rectify the mistake CITATION Car01 l 16393 (Carp & Stidham, 2001).
Strengths and weaknesses of the criminal justice procedure
The criminal justice system in America has changed significantly over the course of years. In fact, there have been many ground-breaking cases that have changed the way the system treats it constituents. One of the strengths of the system is the provision for preliminary hearings – as opposed to grand jury processes, which leave the defendant wide open and unable to defend himself or herself. The preliminary hearings, thus, bring the case out in the open.
Additionally, the various defendant’s rights, particularly the right to a speedy trial ensure that the defendant does not spend more time than absolutely necessary when it comes to his/her sentence. The case of Barker vs. Wingo was a turning point in this sense, being the first instance where the right to speedy trial was discussed at length after the accused, Willie Barker, had to appear in court sixteen times to be tried. What was more is that Barker’s case was repeatedly postponed due to common and insensible errors on the system’s part, thus validating his claim. CITATION New141 l 16393 (Newbauer & Fradella, 2014).
One of the primary weaknesses of the justice system is the wrongful conviction of innocent people. Oftentimes, an innocent person finds himself or herself at the short end of the stick because of not being able to afford proper legal counsel, or simply being in the wrong place and the wrong time. For decades, the American criminal justice system has obsessed itself with not letting a guilty person go free. However, it is impossible to determine, based on current data, the number of people who may have been wrongfully convicted. In a Harris Poll of Americans, 94 percent of the survey takers said that they believed innocent people are often convicted of crimes like murder almost 13 percent of the time. Similarly, in January 2003, estimates said that at least 13 of the 167 inmates facing death row in Illinois were innocent. While the number may be comparatively small, it does not excuse the justice system of its faults – there were errors of law committed in all these cases, and were not addressed appropriately CITATION Fur03 l 16393 (Furman, 2003).
Another weakness in the system relates to the desire for justice versus the time and resources needed for the same. There are various outside factors that work against the same, the primary of which is funding. Courts, police authorities, and other correctional facilities are often unable to levy proper justice owing to lack of resources and funding to keep a trial going. Outside factors may also include political elements and lobbyists who work to sway decisions in court owing to ulterior motives: this is not only an act of obstruction of justice but also a blatant violation of the sanctity of the justice system. Other times, the inadequacy of authorities or resistance of the parties may extend the case well beyond what should have been its natural life.
What is needed in such scenarios is excellent gatekeeping to filter out important cases from those that can be handled with plea bargains and other minor forms of punishment. A clear criteria for ranking cases is necessary. A clarification and delineation of the purpose of punishment is also needed. Additionally, to apply correctional measures, one must first acknowledge the lack of resources for the department, without feeling emasculated at asking for help CITATION Bib10 l 16393 (Bibas & White, 2010).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Bibas, S., & White, W. W. (2010, January). International Idealism meets Domestic Criminal Procedure Realism. Duke Law Journal, 59(4), 639-704.
Carp, R. A., & Stidham, R. (2001). Judicial Process in America. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc.
Furman, H. P. (2003, September ). Wrongful Convictions and the Accuracy of the Criminal Justice System. The Colorado Lawyer, 32(9), 11-29.
Newbauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2014). Chapter 5 – The Dynamics of Courthouse Justice. In D. W. Newbauer, America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System (pp. 120-145). Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
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