Essay: Criminal Justice Process

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Criminal Justice Process

Considerable attention has been devoted to law, both substantive and procedural on the justice process. The criminal justice system is a legal system. How does the law influence the day-to-day activities of the justice process? Be sure to cover criminal justice decisions in all major sub-components of the process.

The law influences the day-to-day activities of the justice process in a number of ways, because the law determines the parameters of permissible activity at every point in the criminal justice system. First, it is important to realize that the law influences what is considered criminal activity. This may seem like an obvious point, but it can have a tremendous impact on the day-to-day activities of the criminal justice system. For example, the use, possession, and sale of illegal drugs takes up a huge proportion of criminal justice resources, at all levels of the criminal justice process. Specific narcotics units investigate and arrest drug offenders, many jurisdictions have specific drug courts, and drug offenders are, hopefully, offered treatment alternatives whether or not they are subjected to traditional incarceration. Even post-release, most drug-offenders are required to remain sober as a condition of parole.

If this behavior were legalized, it would free up tremendous resources in the criminal justice system. Other behavior, such as spousal abuse, is now considered a serious crime, but was virtually ignored less than a quarter-of-a-century ago. Societal norms help shape legislation, and that legislation helps direct law enforcement activities and energy. Therefore, the determination of what behavior is illegal and what behavior is illegal does more than inform the police about what behaviors are criminal; it also helps shape the focus of law enforcement detection efforts.

Of course, how the state may detect a crime is very influenced by the law. The Fourth Amendment defines the parameters of a permissible search and the Fifth Amendment delineates the conditions under which a suspect can be questioned. The Fourth Amendment, and the cases that have fleshed out its requirements, require law enforcement officials to obtain search warrants based on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before searching private premises, though there are some notable exceptions to the search warrant requirement. In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court interpreted the Fifth Amendment to require the police to notify suspects of their right to an attorney prior to custodial interrogations. Taken together, these amendments and their interpretations help shape the course of investigations and prevent the use of unlawful searches and interrogations by excluding illegally obtained evidence from a defendant's criminal trial. However, since the purpose of the exclusionary rule is to discourage police misconduct, the law has developed a good faith exception for such exclusions.

The development of law has helped change how criminal defendants are treated during their trials. First, pre-trial laws have made it easier for judges to use bail determinations as a method of pre-trial detention, though that is not the official purpose of bail. Moreover, the rules of evidence, a matter of law, determine what evidence is admissible, beyond constitutional concerns. For example, hearsay evidence is inadmissible, even if it is obtained in a constitutional manner. Furthermore, the laws have developed specific courts within the criminal justice system, including juvenile courts, specialized drug courts, and courts that focus on domestic violence. Most importantly, the development of the law has led to the availability of court-appointed counsel for defendants who are unable to afford their own counsel. This is a significant difference from the right to employ counsel if one chose to do so at one's own expense and has profoundly changed the operation of the criminal justice system.

Post conviction, laws influence the criminal justice process in a significant manner. For example, when the Constitution was written, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment definitely did not apply to the death penalty, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that various forms of the death penalty have violated that prohibition. The various sentences that offenders face are a matter of law; for example, third time felony offenders can face life in prison for the commission of even a minor felony offense. Moreover, the law can impose special post-release burdens on certain offenders, such as sex offender registries for child molesters. These potential sentences and post-release conditions can impact an offender's willingness to plea bargain to lesser charges, which can impact the entire criminal justice system.

2. Herbert Packer suggested that there were two competing models of criminal justice, a due process model and a crime control model. Describe these models and provide illustration of criminal justice processing that exemplifies either the due process or crime control ideologies.

Because there are two conflicting goals in the criminal justice arena, theorists like Herbert Packer have suggested that there are two competing models of criminal justice: a due process model and a crime control model. In the due process model, the primary goal is the protection of individual liberty. It is the due process model that suggests it is better for a thousand guilty men to go free than to convict a single innocent man. To that end, the due process model places a number of procedural burdens on the government, which limits government power. The due process orientation focuses on how criminal justice happens and examines questions like who is arrested, charged, convicted, sentenced, and paroled. It does so to ensure that all defendants are treated in a procedurally equal manner.

In the crime control model, the goal is the protection of society, which is accomplished by identifying and processing criminal offenders. While the crime control model does not seek to punish innocent people, the goal is the protection of society and an assembly-line like criminal justice system, which runs smoothly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, the side effect of an assembly-line like system of criminal justice is that innocent people are invariably punished under such a system. However, because crime control models focus on the impact that certain actions have on crime, the punishment of innocent people may be considered an acceptable trade-off if the underlying theories and policies result in an overall reduction in crime.

Perhaps more than any other issue in American criminal justice, the issue of the death penalty highlights the inherent conflict between crime control and due process orientations. Critics of the death penalty like to suggest that the death penalty does not reduce the number of capital offenses in countries that practice the death penalty, but that is not an accurate statement. In countries where the imposition of death is not only certain but also swiftly follows conviction for a capital offense, the number of capital crimes is lower than in comparable countries. Therefore, from a crime control perspective, the death penalty may be effective. However, as applied in the United States, the death penalty does not reduce the rates of capital crimes and utilizes tremendous resources, because of the emphasis on due process concerns.

For example, before seeking the death penalty in a certain case, prosecutors first must determine whether or not a particular defendant is death eligible. While the criteria for death eligibility are subject to change (for example, only recently did the Supreme Court determine that it was inappropriate to execute mentally retarded individuals), a prosecutor currently needs to determine if a defendant is sane, mentally competent, and represents an ongoing danger to society. Moreover, though the Supreme Court's recent decisions have taken away some of the import of race-conscious decisions like Batson, the prosecutor needs to look at the defendant's race and the race of the victim, and determine whether the decision to seek the death penalty is motivated by either of those characteristics. Then, although the technical details vary by jurisdiction, the prosecutor needs to file a notice that he is seeking the death penalty. The jury must be selected based on the idea that the government is seeking the death penalty, and while the government cannot exclude jurors simply because they have moral objections to the sentence, they can exclude those jurors who say that they will refuse to apply the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty and meets that defendant's requirements for death eligibility.

The requirements at trial are no different for capital and non-capital trials, but at the sentencing phase, many death penalty states simply require jurors to make findings according to special questions, with particular responses resulting in the death penalty. However, conviction and sentencing are not sufficient. The Supreme Court has recognized the different nature of the death penalty and the special concerns that the finality of an execution brings to the issue of due process, and most jurisdictions have instituted a process of quasi-automatic appeal from any death sentence.

All of these issues combine to make the imposition of the death penalty a very costly and time-consuming punishment, which, in turn, makes it incompatible with crime control ideologies in America. This highlights the tension between the two different models of the criminal justice system.

3. One of the problems… [END OF PREVIEW]

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