The three components of the criminal justice system are the police department, the courts, and the department of corrections. The police maintain public order and investigate crimes, as well as protect the rights of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals (Schmalleger, 2009). To accomplish these goals, the police department constantly patrols cities and arrests those suspected of committing a crime (Cole & Smith). The courts exist to formally charge individuals with a crime, hold trials to determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence, and to sentence those found guilty. The corrections department functions to carry out sentences imposed by the courts. (Schmalleger, 2009) Examples of sentences enforced by the corrections department include prison time, parole, fines, and community service (Cole & Smith).
It is important to know what a crime is to understand the criminal justice system. According to the Lectlaw.com website, a crime is any act deemed wrongful by statute or case law (2012). A crime relates to the law because a crime is any “offense against a public law” (Lectlaw). A crime may be a felony or a misdemeanor (Lectlaw). Felonies are more serious than misdemeanors. Felonies are usually punishable by more than one year in prison while misdemeanors are usually punishable by a fine and less than a one-year term in county jail (Lectlaw.com).
Our author, Frank Schmalleger, gives a good example of how the criminal justice process works. The first step is intake. During the intake process, the accused is charged with a crime through a formal complaint (Schmalleger, 2009). Probable cause must exist which means it is more likely than not that the accused committed the crime (Schmalleger).
Next, the defendant makes his first appearance in court. During the first appearance, the defendant is advised of his rights, including the right to an attorney (Schmalleger, 2009). In addition, bail is set at this time. Defendants who are able to post bail are released until trial (Schmallager).
Between the first appearance and the trial, the prosecution and the defense may agree to a plea bargain (Schmallager, 2009). In a plea bargain, the defendant may agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge and receive a reduced sentence (Schmallager). The purpose of plea bargains is to avoid costly trials but still obtain convictions. Judges do not have to agree to the plea bargain (Schmallager). If judges do not agree, they may schedule a trial (Schmallager).
Before the trial, a pre-arraignment conference is held which includes both the prosecution and the defense. Before the pre-arraignment conference, the defendant and her attorney review the evidence collected by the prosecution (Schmallager, 2009). At the pre-arraignment conference, depending on the evidence, the defendant may plead guilty or ask to plea bargain (Schmallager).
The arraignment is another step that takes place before trial. During the arraignment, the defendant appears, formally hears the charges, and pleads guilty or not guilty (Schmallager, 2009). If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date is set.
At a pre-trial conference, the defendant may plead not guilty and continue with plea negotiations (Schmallager, 2009). If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge may then impose a sentence or schedule a sentencing date.
The next step is the trial. At the trial both sides argue their case, evidence is presented, and the defendant is pronounced guilty or not guilty by either the jury or the judge. The sentence may be announced now or at a future sentencing date. After the trial, the defendants are allowed to appeal their sentences or file motions to have sentences modified (Schmallager, 2009). Serving the sentence and rehabilitation are the last steps in the criminal justice process.
The purpose of having the three branches of government is to ensure that no one branch has too much power as that may hurt the legal rights of the citizens. The legislative branch makes the laws. Anytime a citizen breaks the law, the judicial branch takes over by listening to evidence and deciding whether a defendant is guilty. The executive branch is in place to veto laws if the President feels that is necessary for the best interests of the nation. The three branches each have their responsibilities which if carried out correctly, work to ensure fair treatment for all.
The three components of the criminal justice system, the police department, the courts, and the corrections department are designed to work together to protect the rights of the accused. When the police department makes an arrest, the court system is in place to decide if the arrest was justified. In addition, the courts look at the evidence to decide if there is enough evidence to bring formal charges and schedule a trial. The courts then decide guilt or innocence during the trial. If a sentence is imposed, the corrections system is in place to carry out the sentence in a way that treats the convicted with as much dignity as possible. Overall, our criminal justice system is working well together to create justice for all.
Cole, G. F. & Smith, C.E. (2008). Criminal justice in america. Belmont, CA: Thompson Higher
Crime. (2012). The ‘lectric law library. Retrieved from http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c330.htm.
Pardon Information and Instructions. (n.d.). The United States Department of Justice. Retrieved
Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminal justice today: An introductory text for the 21st century. Boston: MA: Pearson Prentice Hall.
U.S. Const. art. I, II, & III