Introduction to Criminal Justice
Question one: Explain why individual rights and public order perspectives are such contentious issues in contemporary American Society
Individual rights refer to personal or individual freedoms that are accorded to human beings and are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Some of the individual rights enshrined in the law include the right to petition, right to bear arms, right to vote, among others. An individual rights perspective calls for the protection of personal freedoms without any abridgement in the criminal justice system. On the other hand, when viewed from a public order perspective, it is suggested that individual rights or personal freedoms can be overridden when public safety is at stake. Indeed, public order advocates believe that under certain particular circumstances involving criminal threat to public safety, societal interest should trump individual rights. There have been many laws and regulations put in place in America to anchor this position. The criminal justice system is usually faced with the struggle to maintain a balance between securing individual freedoms and maintaining public safety.
Some of the laws that have been instituted or enacted to this end include the National Minimum Drinking Act of 1984 which set the minimum age of drinking alcohol to 21 years and the Fair Labor Standards which put a limit on persons above the age of 18 years to work. Though these laws were enacted in a bid to maintain public order and for the safety and welfare of the whole American society, there is an argument that the same laws go against individual rights. For instance, the law restricting persons below 18 years from working or drinking could be said to impinge on individual rights enshrined in the law.
In the contemporary American society, an issue has arisen concerning the need for a mandatory HPV vaccination amongst teenage girls so as to act as a preventive measure against cervical cancer. Individual rights advocates have argued that it should be the prerogative of the minor’s parents to determine whether these teenage girls should take the vaccination. On the other hand, public order advocates are of the view that it is of greater public good and safety for all teenagers to be vaccinated and that the same should not be dependent on the consent of the teenagers or their parents. So we have a case where individual rights contrast to public order. The USA Patriot Act of 2001 signed into law by former President Bush also has provisions that tend to impinge on individual freedoms. The Act was enacted against the backdrop of the 9/11 terror attacks and seeks to limit individual freedoms especially for foreigners in a bid to ensure public safety. These two diametric perspectives continue to remain contentious issues owing to the ever raging contest between respecting the rights of individuals against those of the society.
Question two: Briefly discuss how the main components of the criminal justice system can at times complement each other and at times also be in conflict with each other and provide examples.
Components of the criminal justice system include the police or law enforcement, the correctional agencies and the courts. The three components of the criminal justice system need to work together despite their being independent institutions, so as to ensure the proper administration of justice. The law enforcement is charged with the investigation and apprehension of suspected criminals. The courts are charged with the responsibility of adjudging the innocence or otherwise of the suspects based on an evaluation of the evidence tendered by the prosecution or the investigation of the police. The correctional agencies are charged with the role of incarcerating the criminals when they are found guilty with the purpose of punishing or reforming them for restoration to society. Since the criminal justice system is interlinked, and for public order to be sustained, these elements must work together. However, this is not always the case and in some instances, conflicts between these components do occur.
The components at particular times complement each other in terms of roles. It is the case that law enforcement does require the courts and correctional facilities while the courts do require the timely and expedient delivery of evidence from the police to adjudicate cases that come before them effectively. An example of an instance where these components complement each other is where the courts give powers to the police by way of arrest warrant giving them power to arrest a fugitive suspected criminal. Similarly, upon cogent evidence tendered by the police following investigations, the court may convict an accused person in effect improving the work of the law enforcement officers who are charged with the maintenance of law and order. On the other hand, the correctional facilities complement the two components by providing facilities for incarcerating the criminals thus protecting the community from threats and easing the work of the law enforcement officers.
At other times, conflicts do occur among the components of the criminal justice system. Conflicts do arise especially between the law enforcement department and the courts. Occasionally, the police find themselves differing with the courts over what they perceive to be leniency and frequent plea bargaining that is mainly caused by misperception on their part. This is because what the prosecutor is capable of achieving in a case is usually dependent on the evidence given to him by the police. In the event that he finds that the evidence is not overwhelming to sustain a conviction, he may opt for a plea bargaining. In a bid to bridge the gap or conflict that exists, it is imperative that the police do appreciate that the standard of the courts in convicting an accused is that of beyond reasonable doubt and that it is more rigid than their standard of arrest, which is based in reasonable suspicion.
Question three: Of the various stages of the American criminal justice case, which singular stage is most critical from the crime control perspective, and which stage from the due process perspective? Explain why?
The sentencing stage of the trial process is the most critical stage as far as crime control is concerned. The crime control perspective focuses on ensuring that the society is protected from crime as opposed to the respect for individual rights. This theory posits that the law should be more worried about the society and prevent crime as opposed to worrying about personal freedoms. A crime control perspective stresses the significance of deterrence of people from crime through legal sanctions. As such, when a court sentences a criminal to a harsh penalty, the same may act as a deterrent factor to others and thus aid in the control of crime.
On the other hand, the hearing or the trial proper in the courtroom is the most critical from a due process perspective. In contradistinction to the crime control model, the due process perspective places a premium on the rights of the individual. It emphasizes the need for ensuring that the accused person is accorded fair treatment through the criminal justice system. Indeed, it is the reasoning behind the adversarial system in the legal process where the accused is given a chance to challenge evidence adduced against them. Proponents of this model believe that offenders are entitled to the full protection of the law to ensure that innocent persons are not convicted. This jurisprudence borrows from the eminent jurist Sir William Blackstone who said that it is better for a thousand criminals to be out of jail than for one innocent person to be wrongly convicted.
Question four: Identify and discuss the differences between the two major sources of statistical data about crime in the United States.
Two major sources of statistical data are employed in the United States in the analysis of crime. One of the methods used in crime analysis is the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program while the other is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The UCR program is mainly used in collecting official crime data and was initially used by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). One of the strengths of this UCR form of reporting or method lies in its allowance of a thorough and comprehensive outlay of data. This has the facilitative effect to the researcher who is afforded a better chance to study crime as well as the delinquent behavior. More so, since the UCR program has evolved to contain reports made from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, the data usually contains data from both the victim and the offender irrespective of whether an arrest has been made. More so, this method provides knowledge about the characteristics of individuals such as their ethnicity, gender and age.
The second method of crime analysis or collection is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) which is under the aegis of the U.S Bureau of Justice Statistics. The method is made up of gathering data using surveys from households which serve as typical samples. The strength of this method lies in the fact that it makes use of samples obtained from the interview with the household members as opposed to information from the law enforcement department. The data gathered through this means consists of details about the ethnicity, age, income and gender of the members. The second strength of this method lies in its ability to record information about criminal incidents that have not been reported to law enforcement officials. The third strength of the method is its victim-oriented nature which advocates for victims and the direct correlation that crime has on them. The weakness of this method or program is that the NCVS program was reconstructed in the year 1992 thereby making it difficult to compare data correctly and accurately. Another weakness in this program is that it tends to measure only crimes that are related to persons of household data and does not measure business and commercial crimes. The method equally does not report crimes that take place involving children aged 12 years and below. The program is also liable to understatement or overstatement of crimes since the victim is likely to exaggerate their accounts and yet there is no way to verify the veracity of the claims.
Question five: Of the many special categories of crime, which singular special category crime do you think poses the most critical concern in contemporary American Society? Explain why?
I am of the view that terrorism and related offences are the special category of crime that pose the biggest concern for the American society at the moment. This may also have informed the stringent measures taken by the nation at their entry points and is manifested in their laws such as the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Owing to globalization and advances in technology, terror is now a global threat with the United States a major target from these terror groups. As such, this category of crime is of the biggest concern to the United States.
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