The federal system of the United States is founded on the substratum notion that the states administer the principal responsibility for criminal justice and hence, criminal justice is the nucleus of state and not national responsibility.
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Currently, there is no single criminal justice system in the U.S.A as different states follow many systems that are identical but individually distinctive. However, court findings are based on the due process of justice that is guaranteed by the U.S constitution which is responsible for the administration of criminal justice.
The criminal system of the U.S.A can be illustrated as follows:
|The System||The Process|
|Agencies of the crime control|
|1. Police||1. Contact |
|2. Prosecution and Defense:||1. Complaint /Charging |
2. Grand jury / preliminary hearing
5. Plea negotiations
|3. Court||1. Adjudication |
3. Appeal /post-conviction remedies
|4. Corrections||1. Correction |
[Senna & Siegel, 1984, p, 4].
The origin of criminal justice in the USA can be attributed to the concluding periods of the 20th century. Further, the Supreme Court of the United States has slowly enlarged the privileges of the criminal defendants on the fundamentals of the United States constitution’s due process clause. It is to be observed the gap between what was legally demanded and expected and the actual performance of the Criminal Justice Agencies started to expand.
American Criminal Justice System has strong fundamentals. The criminal justice system is designed in such a way, that cases are entirely and comparatively investigated by the police, defense lawyers, and prosecutors, dynamically present their arguments and evidence and trial judges make sure that a fair proceeding is being perused.
Criminal justice system in the USA
Victim or Witness
The witness or victim must assist with the information to the system of criminal justice. The Criminal Justice System [CJS] could not function without such cooperation. Further, a fair trial can not be possible without the passing of full truth or facts. CJS process is long and time-consuming. Hence, the victim has to be patient and should be committed.
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The first process in CJS is a subpoena. It is a court direction asking a victim or a witness to be a place and at the time mentioned in it. Subpoena will contain information like the kind of court hearing at which the victim is required to appear. Further, a plaintiff or an accused should not expect that court proceedings will commence and the process will be completed in a shorter period. The Court process may be delayed due to various reasons like the non-availability of crucial witnesses or calendar conflicts or a legal motion could hamper the court proceedings in a case.
However, according to need or urgency, a witness may be placed on ‘telephone standby” or ‘on-call.” In such cases, the witness or victim may continue his daily work or business and should be prepared to visit the court instantly when there is a call from the District Attorney’s Office. (Bergman, Berman & Berman- Barrett Sara, 2008, p.141).
The preliminary examination will be conducted during the first appearance in felony cases.
Such a first-round assessment is not a trial but it is like an inquiry at which a judge hears to the witness of the offense and decides whether it is enough to entail the accused to witness trial in the superior court or not. At this stage, just sufficient witness is offered to ‘present the accused to respond” in a higher court. A subpoena is issued to witnesses to come and testify at these court hearings. It is to be noted that no jurymen will be there and it is the judge who only concludes whether the accused is needed to witness trial on the accusations or not. (Fletcher, 1998, p.8).
Felony Trial: [Offense of serious type]
In felony cases, the trial will commence within one and half months or more after the completion of the preliminary hearing. Some state law like California demands that a felony should be conducted to trial within two months of the charging of the details or condemnation in higher-ranking court unless that privilege is relinquished by the defendant. Hence, in certain cases, this period may be extended to many months.
In felony trial, the witness will also be testified even though they were already interrogated at the initial trial.
In certain instances, a hearing may not be conducted as the accused admits culpability. In case of admission of guilt by the defendant, the plaintiff will be informed that his statement will not be needed and hence the plaintiff or witness is relieved from the duty under subpoena to attend to court. (Fletcher, 1998, p.121)
Minor offense or Misdemeanor Trial
There will be no first-round hearing in misdemeanor cases. Plaintiff has to appear in court during the actual trial. Hence, testimony by a victim or a witness is required only once.
A victim or a witness may be summoned by the district attorney’s office to verify or give evidence about the incident. After the district attorney completes his questions, the defense attorney has the privilege to cross-examine the victim or a witness. A witness may be asked to remain out of court when another witness is being testified. This is to make sure that the evidence or summon up of one witness does not affect or manipulate the verification of another witness. (Bergman, Berman & Berman- Barrett Sara, 2008, p.100).
Rights of a Defendant
A defendant or his attorney has the right to get an interview with the witness to discern what the substantiation in the litigation will be. However, no rules or laws are preventing a witness from informing the respondent’s attorney about the witness statement before he can take any stand on the issue. There should not be any pressure from the defendant or his attorney on the witness either to reveal or not to speak to anyone.
When testimony proceedings are completed, a verdict will be given. All felony cases’ verdicts will be notified through the letter. In case of a misdemeanor, a victim or a witness may know the result from the District Attorneys’ office.
What happens after the Trial?
A verdict will be given where the defendant may be found guilty or free of charge. In case, if the jury cannot arrive at a verdict, there will be a declaration of a mistrial and in some cases, there can be even fresh trial. If the defendant is adjudged of crime, a day will be fixed for sentencing and this will be normally 28 days after the verdict.
In a criminal trial, the Judge may award any of the following sentences:
- County Jail
- State Prison
- Fine Restitution
- Probation (Regoli, 2007, p.17).
Constitutional Rights Post-Conviction
A convicted person is having the following constitutional rights:
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- He can plead that conviction is made against the Constitution of the U.S.A or laws of any state.
- Without jurisdiction, a court might have found him guilty.
- On the grounds of the erroneous decision or exceeds the utmost authorized by law.
- Now he has supplementary proof that he is innocent.
- The convicted might have been in prison for a long time than the sentence awarded to him.
A convicted may apply for a direct appeal on anyone or a mixture of the above grounds.
Can a framed charge be later dropped by the Prosecution?
John Mark Karr confessed voluntarily in 2006 that he had killed a 10-year girl after having sex with her. He was apprehended and indicted with the offense of murder. The District Attorney dropped the charges against Karr even before his first scheduled appearance in the courtroom since DNA tests were unsuccessful to tie him to the crime despite his voluntary confession of the crime. This case demonstrates how independent the judiciary is functioning in the U.S.A and also the prosecutor is having the authority to dismiss the charge when there is insufficient evidence in a case. (Regoli, 2007, p.18).
One has to be proud of USA’s highly sophisticated criminal justice system. The USA is the only country in the world that has given so much independence to the judiciary. Supreme Court has even the power to appraise the activities of both state and federal governments and come to a conclusion whether a law enacted by them is valid under the US constitution. In some cases, US supreme court even went to the extent of nullifying laws enacted by Congress and even categorically declared that some actions pursued by US presidents were unconstitutional.
In normal parlance, cases are fairly and fully investigated by the police, defense lawyers and prosecutors dynamically present their arguments and evidence and trial judges make sure to offer fair proceedings. However, in many cases, total flaws in the system lead to wrongful convictions, with irreversible and damaging losses, which results in the perpetration of more crimes by the criminals. It is to be noted that no system can ever be totally perfect but at the same time no system that intends to criminal justice can moderately resist reforms that have been established to minimize the error rate.
- Bergman Paul, Berman Sara J & Berman- Barrett Sara J. (2008) The Criminal Law Handbook. New York: Nalo.
- Fletcher George P. (1998). Basic Concepts of Criminal Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Regoli Robert M. (2007). Exploring Criminal Justice. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
- Senna Joseph J & Siegel Larry J. (1984). Introduction to Criminal Justice. New York: West Publishing Co.