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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Criminal justice remains a big challenge to police


Since early 1970s, most research organizations found that, there are a lot of crime cases not only in US but across all countries. In US alone, it was reported that more than 33.6 million people in 1992 experienced crime in one way or the other. In 1993, the number rose to 43.6 million and indeed, in 1994 according to a research that, was carried by Times Mirror Centre survey, most Americans cited crime as the most important national problem than health care, jobs and unemployment, morality and ethics and poverty and homelessness. Indeed, criminal justice remains a big challenge to police, society and courts (Bridges, Weis, & Crutchfield, 1996).

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice system is mainly made up of police, courts and correction agencies. Criminal justice system specifically deals with “laws regarding criminal behavior.” The police are engaged in keeping of law and order. Another group that studies criminal justice includes the lawyers who defends or prosecute those accused of doing criminal activities (Purpura, 2007).

However, it is quite important to talk of justice whenever one is implying to criminal justice system due to the fact that the accusers needs a fair trial. The first model of criminal justice was prepared by the president’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice in the year 1967. The model presented the difference in criminal justice system agents and how they were to operate harmoniously in the pursuit of justice (Bridges, Weis, & Crutchfield, 1996).

In contrast, this has never been the case, as these agents have been accusing one another hence, no cooperation between them. For example, for a very long time, the police have been condemning the courts of being too lenient and the corrections being ineffective. On the other hand, the courts have been suspicious of the evidence gathering techniques of the police. The correction agencies have also been accusing the judges of sentencing persons with minor cases hence, causing overcrowding in prisons (Christensen, 2010).

Certainly, it is apparent that, there is a lot of mistrust amongst these agencies. Though, there have been conflicts among these agencies, the independence and interrelated functions of police, courts and corrections are stipulated in the developed model of criminal justice system. It is made in a way that when a police arrests an individual, the accused should be arraigned in court to answer to the charges within stipulated time as required by law (Gaines, & Miller, 2007). If the court finds the accused guilty, he or she should be sentenced to prison as per the law thus, beginning of correction. The main functions of criminal justice system include protecting the society, maintain order and stability, control crime and investigate crime and arrest offenders. Other functions are setting an appropriate sentence for the guilty and protecting the constitutional rights of defendants through the criminal justice process (Christopher, Richard, et al, 2002).

Felony Cases

Felony cases are, serious cases similar to rape, assault, robbery and burglary and both police and prosecutors agree that these cases require the full use of criminal justice system. There are three factors that guide police and the prosecutors when dealing with felony cases. These are; the seriousness of the crime, the criminal record of the suspect and finally the relationship between the victim and the offender. According to the US criminal justice system, there are layers that define the seriousness of the offence. On serious felonies, the relationship between the victim and the offender solely determines the layer into which one is placed (Judah, 2006).

For example, if a case is a robbery due to a disagreement between people who know each other, the case is normally characterized as not so serious and is regarded as a third layer crime. On the other hand, if the robbery was committed by an individual with a criminal record, the case is regarded as very serious hence the offender faces harsher charges (Samaha, 2006).

Stages of a Felony Prosecution


When one is arrested, the police need to arraign the suspect in court to answer charges within a specified time according to the law. By this time, the suspect should be informed of the charges filed against him, in addition to sentence if found guilty. Despite the fact that one is allowed to enter a plea of “not guilty,” there are at times when this may be delayed due to legal reasons (Hall, 2009).

Preliminary Hearing

After one has been arraigned in court, a preliminary hearing follows within ten days. In most cases for example in California, the courts are normally forced to dismiss the case unless the prosecution outlines good reason as to why the case cannot begin within the stipulated 10 days. The courts normally order a suspect to be released if a prolongation is decided beyond the 10 day period. At this stage, the prosecution is normally required to produce evidence before a court of law to show there is “probable cause” to hold one for trial. At the same time, a suspect’s attorney is also given time for cross examining any witness and challenge the evidence against the suspect at the hearing (Hall, 2009).

Second Arraignment

This arraignment continues when the judge considers that, the evidence brought before him is enough to hold a suspect for trial. The judge orders that, the suspect be brought to court within 15 days after preliminary hearing. Simultaneously, the suspect is normally allowed to enter a plea of “not guilty. A suspect can also challenge the hearing if he or she feels that there was no sufficient evidence presented at preliminary hearing to support that charge.

Alternatively, if found guilty one is sentenced according to the law though there is normally room to appeal against the case (Hall, 2009).

House v. Bell

In this case, the United States Supreme Court was challenging the acceptability of new DNA forensic evidence, brought before court after one had been convicted for capital punishment appeals, though the claim had a failure to pay pursuant to state law. According to the court then, it found the use of DNA evidence satisfactory. This case is quite different from other felonies like robbery which no evidence can be brought before court in post conviction (FindLaw, 2010).

Indeed, another difference was how the case was so extensive since, it took attorneys a lot of time in addition to resources in appealing and reviewing the case. In addition, since Carolyn Muncey and House were friends, the court was supposed to be lenient on its sentence. Since House had no criminal record, the court was to look at all the evidence keenly before it came to the sentence.

Another reason was how the evidence was handled by the FBI. This was questionable since it is clear that, though they were aware that, they were dealing with a very sensitive case, they ended up packing it carelessly. House case did not follow the stages that a normal felony case should follow. For example, House was detained for several months in contrast with the stipulated time one should be detained as per the law (FindLaw, 2010).

Legal Defenses in American Law.


Duress is a caused danger which can be regarded as severe to deny an individual his or her free choice. According to the US law;

“A person is not guilty of a crime if he participated only because he believed, and had good reason to believe, that he would be seriously harmed if he did not participate and had no other way of escaping serious harm.”

In most cases, it is normally the responsibility of the government to prove beyond reasonable doubt that, the accused is guilty of the offence since he or she had no reasonable belief “that such participation was the only way he could save himself from serious harm.”

Duress can be said to be of imprisonment and duress per minas. Duress of imprisonment is where one loses his or her liberty. Duress by threat does not necessarily mean entering into a contract simply because, of threat but when such a threat brings about some grievous wrongs which may include death or great bodily harm or even unlawful imprisonment (Shankland, 2009). Duress per minas has been for a very long time recognized by the law. This is regarded as a threat from the third party. In such cases, the defendants are normally regarded as not guilty simply because he was forced to choose between committing a crime and being killed if he does not do as demanded by the party. Bodily harm may include loss of a limb or other great bodily harm (Parsonsn, 1858).

Insanity Defense

The defense requires that a person should not face punishment for wrongdoing except when he or she had an aim of committing crime. Such individuals request for their acquittal simply because, of their state of insanity. Most defendants in insanity defense do argue that, they should not be charged since at the time of the crime, they were legally insane. In many a times, such individuals are normally ordered to go through a mental examination beforehand. Therefore, if such cases go through, such individuals are committed to a psychiatric hospital. For insanity defense to continue, a forensic professional has to evaluate whether indeed the individual at that time of the act was able to differentiate from bad and good (Molan, 2001).

Juvenile Delinquency

It is a term that is normally given to juveniles who engage in criminal acts. The term juvenile simply means someone who has not reached adulthood. When facing trial, at times the court can decide to charge a juvenile as adulthood. This means that it is the law that characterizes adulthood or the age of majority in a court of law since when a juvenile commit a major crime, the court may decide to charge him or her as an adult. Delinquency on the other hand can be used to refer to committing things regarded as crimes by the state, even though it can also stand for the word abandoned. Juvenile delinquency can mean small or even serious crimes for example a student who absconds school or serious crimes like felony and murder (Christensen, 2010).

When a child that have not reached an age considered as an adult commits a crime, he or she is normally tried in a different court and at times confined in a different place from adults. This is called juvenile detention centers. The juvenile court or juvenile family decides whether to detain the child by looking at the risk that the respective child poses to the society. At times, the courts decide for rehabilitation, house arrest, appointed therapy and other measures especially when dealing with very young children.

In recent times, experts have been coming up with a number of thoughts of what causes juvenile delinquency. However, it is very clear that those children that been neglected or passed through torture and other forms of violence may end up committing crimes. In addition, others have been arguing that genetic makeup may also play a full-size role in juvenile delinquency.

Impact of federal courts

In the US, the federal courts consist of, the Judiciary Branch of government structured under the constitution and laws of the federal government. Article III of the constitution of US ordains the Supreme Court and permits the Congress to, establish other inferior federal courts to implement jurisdiction over specified classes of cases, thought to be of national concern. According to the constitution, the federal courts have the mandate of deciding “cases” or “controversies.” This means that the federal courts have no role to play in solving problems that litigants bring to them (Wheeler, 2009). Though a number of commentators and judges believe that, federal courts have a role to play in effecting social change but, federal courts have no power in reaching out and identifying social problems (Little, 2007). The constitution provides that the federal judges enjoy life tenure hence, federal judges are independent than the elected officials of the federal government and, the elected members of the state judiciary. The federal court system in the US includes Supreme Courts, courts of appeal, district courts and many other specialized courts. The courts are structured in a way that each of them have power to decide matters included in Article III. The Supreme Court mainly reviews cases from lower federal courts and the state court system. Though not occasionally, the Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction when cases are began there. However, according to the US constitution, it is in the federal courts that plaintiff first files their cases (Posner, 1995).

Civil and criminal cases filed in trial courts of general jurisdiction

Jurisdiction mainly explains authority over a given area or certain persons. In law, it means a legal authority in a given geographical area. For instance, federal government has legal authority on itself (Hill, & Hill, 2005). The federal government exercises its powers all over the United States. Jurisdiction on the other hand may mean the “origin of a court’s authority.” Any court of general jurisdiction has the authority to listen to all cases that are not exclusively set aside for special jurisdiction courts. According to the US constitution, special jurisdiction courts only listen to certain kinds of cases.

Courts of general jurisdiction are also called district courts and at times superior courts. However, in New York, the courts are called the Supreme Court of New York. Courts of general jurisdiction include subject matter jurisdiction above the majority of claims coming from civil cases. These may include unpaid debts, torts, civil right violations and contracts. However, these courts have no subject matter in cases that have been set aside for courts of special jurisdiction (The ‘Lectric Law Library, 2010).

Importance of assembly-line justice.

Any time the objectives of court are discussed, the most important issues checked are efficiency, rapidity, cooperation and socialization. Nonetheless, one area that needs to be checked is justice. In most of the times, the American courts have been criticized since they look at efficiency more than justice. In fact, many observers have argued that it is only the wealthy that receive justice while the poor faces assembly line justice (Eastvedt, 2008).

The US criminal justice system authorities on the other hand argue that, assembly line justice is inevitable due to increase in caseloads. Indeed, a closer look at the nation’s courts reveals how the problem is becoming more serious and its consequences. For example, in Tennessee, about 2300 to 4800 of criminal cases are handled yearly. In addition to this, in Massachusetts and Boston; a murder case can take up to twenty four months to reach trial due to overcrowding in courts. A good example of a case that was thrown is that of Bruce Erick Smith. Though he was guilty of felony that could have automatically sent him to a life prison, it was overturned after the prosecutors delayed hence; he was set free (Lydgate, 2010).

The federal courts have not been spared either since they have also been going though the problem of caseloads. According to a survey that was carried between 1994 and 2003, it was established that, caseloads have increased by 50% (Siegel, & Welsh, 2009).

Characteristics of Prosecutors

Prosecutors have the duty of representing the US government in court with an aim of prosecuting violators. They are extremely significant when it comes to administration of justice. A prosecutor files and prepares documents. He or she is also engaged in pre-trial activities which include discovery and appearing in court (Molan, 2008). In addition, prosecutors act as legal counsels to law enforcers on matters of arrests, surveillance technique, law of searches, seizures and other related matters. The United States prosecutors also have a duty of appearing in grand jury hearings where they present their evidence and, also help the jury in other ways. However, in some jurisdictions, the prosecutors double as the supervisors of law enforcement officers. In federal courts, the prosecutor is the attorney general who heads the Department of Justice. According to the US, an individual can be prosecuted on prosecutor’s discretion. Almost all cases pass through the prosecutor’s office though, he or she has the power to enter a nolle prosequi thus the case proceeds no further (Willing, 2005).


Criminal justice system remains one of the biggest challenges not only in US but around the world. However, it important to note that, law enforcement and criminal justice system of US has developed tremendously since the nation was founded some 200 years ago. Though, the system outlines its functions, there have been conflicts between the agencies, each condemning one another due to ineffectiveness. In conclusion, criminal justice system is a vital part of our society and a complex amalgamation of the three major components which include; law enforcement, courts and corrections.

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