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What Is the Criminal Justice System?

San Quentin State Prison in California.
A person accused of homicide will move through the criminal justice system.
Suspects begin their way through the criminal justice system when they are arrested for a crime.
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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 April 2014
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The criminal justice system refers to the court system, the prison and jail system, and the system within a society by which accused people are tried for crimes and punished. There are numerous components of this system, from the police who investigate crimes to the lawyers who prosecute cases and the judges who preside over the courts. Prison systems and parole officers are also part of the system.

In most developed countries, there is a body of criminal law. Criminal laws dictate what behaviors are forbidden and punishable by the state. Criminal law is distinct from civil law, which refers to duties that people have to each other that are enforced in private lawsuits. Violation of criminal law can result in prosecution and punishment by the state itself.

Most countries also have codes in place to protect accused criminals. Canada and the United Kingdom both protect the rights of the accused in their chartering documents, such as the English Bill of Rights. The United States protects accused people through the due process clause in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments, the right to a trial by jury in the Sixth Amendment, and the right against self incrimination in the Fifth Amendment.

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The criminal justice system thus must operate to enforce criminal laws and punish those who violate them, while also protecting the rights of the accused guaranteed by the fundamental laws of the state and country. Those who are in the system, from the police to the attorneys, act as officers of the court or officers of the state. They are expected to behave appropriately, fairly and justly when it comes to the rights of the accused.

When a person is accused of a crime, he moves through the criminal justice system according to the process determined by the authorities that established the system. This usually means he is questioned, and evidence is collected on the crime. An attorney for the state, often referred to as a prosecutor, thus determines whether there is enough evidence to request an arrest warrant be issued.

If an arrest warrant is issued, the accused enters the court phase. The exact process differs among countries, but generally during this phase of the criminal justice system, both the prosecution and the defense present evidence to convince a judge or jury that their version of events is correct.

If the person is found guilty in a trial, he continues to move through the criminal justice system. He is sentenced according to criminal laws, to either jail time or some other punishment. If he is sentenced to jail time, he remains in the justice system and serves his sentence in a federal or state prison or jail.

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Discuss this Article

suntan12
Post 4

Mutsy- That is really a great idea. I think that there are a lot of criminal justice jobs. For example, you can be a police officer and get your training at the Police Academy or a correctional officer and work in a prison.

There are also a growing number of probation officer positions available due to the increase in crime. There are even opportunities conducting criminal research statistics and working with the FBI.

The FBI also offers college interns an internship for qualified students. Sometimes psychologists also work in the field of criminal justice.

Criminal profilers are forensic psychologists that study deviant and criminal behavior and help law enforcement design the personality make up of a suspect at large.

It is a really interesting field and sometimes these forensic psychologists are called to give expert testimony in criminal cases. There are also detectives and criminal investigators that help solve crimes as well as medical examiners who determine the cause of death in victims.

mutsy
Post 3

Icecream17-Sometimes rehabilitation in the criminal system often results in rehab services and half way houses for those suffering from drug addiction.

They also offer anger management classes and parenting classes for parents that have been charged with neglect.

These are often terms in the probation that must be strictly adhered to or it is viewed as a violation of probation.

There is also a lot technology in the criminal justice system. People on house arrest have an ankle bracelet that is monitored via a computer so that your movements can be tracked.

This is also a method used for convicted pedophiles that have been released because it is believed that this population has a high recidivism rate and close monitoring is essential.

Also for those with alcohol related offenses such DUI, a monitor is actually placed in the car that measures your blood alcohol level. If your blood alcohol is above a certain range then the car will not start.

icecream17
Post 2

Subway11-Depending on the nature of the crime and your criminal history you will receive a sentence based on the sentencing guidelines.

If you are assigned jail time, upon your release you will be assigned a probationary officer and will have weekly or bimonthly meetings to discuss your progress based on your probationary period.

Should you violate your probation and commit a crime during that time frame you will be sent back to prison. These are the procedures in the criminal justice system.

subway11
Post 1

The procedural steps of the criminal justice system involve an arrest and then arrangement when you are read the charges against you.

At that point, you have the opportunity to offer your plea. A lawyer will advise you of any plea bargains offered by the prosecution.

If you plead not guilty then you will receive a court date for your trial. At the trial, you will attend and based on the jury verdict and the judge’s recommendations you will receive your fate.

If there is a guilty verdict, then you will have to return to court for the sentencing hearing.

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