Criminal Justice System and Process in the US


According to Smith (2003) a crime is but a wrongdoing and can be classified as a felony or a misdemeanor; for it is against the public law. Crimes are therefore punishable by statutes and the common law.

The relationship between crime and law is referred to as Criminal Law (Law Library, 2011). Criminal law (Penal Law) seeks to regulate criminal activities and prohibits specific conducts which are defined by rules and statutes which are accompanied by penalties (Morrison, 2008). These statutory rules are composed by the state legislators and Congress. Criminal law is enforced by the government. The subsections of Criminal are Substantive Criminal Law (that deals with the substance of law i.e. identification of crimes and their classification) and Criminal Procedure (that deals with enforcement of the laws).

Criminal Justice System

The Criminal Justice System includes processes as well as agencies that are established by the governments with an aim of controlling crime as well as imposing penalties on those who commit crimes (Schmallager, 2009). In the United States there is no individual system rather there exist many similar systems. The operations within these systems are highly dependent on the jurisdiction that is in charge; and maybe a city, a state, a county, the federal government, the tribal government, or military installation (Smith, 2003). The two main systems are the State Criminal Justice which handles crimes committed within each state’s boundaries, and the Federal Criminal Justice system which deals with handling crimes that are committed on federal property or in more than one state (Schmallager, 2009).

Components of the Criminal Justice System

Most Criminal Justice Systems have five distinct components these include law enforcement, prosecution, defense attorneys, the courts, and corrections. Each of these components plays a significant role in the criminal justice process (Smith, 2003).

Law Enforcement: This is where the law enforcement officers investigate the various crimes within their territory or boundaries and gather the required or obtainable evidence that they are required to protect. Therefore their key role is to compile and protect crime reports and evidence respectively (Smith, 2003).

Prosecution: Prosecution involves prosecutors who are lawyers that represent the state or the federal government throughout the court process. They present evidence in the courts, question the witnesses as well as decide on whether to negotiate on plea bargains with the defendant if charges have been filled (Schmallager, 2009).

Defense Attorneys: On the other hand the defense attorneys are mandated to defend the accused against the government’s case. These attorneys are either hired by the defendants or assigned for by the court (Schmallager, 2009).

The Courts: The courts are spear-headed by judges whose ultimate purpose is to make sure that the correct process in the courtroom is followed to the latter (Smith, 2003). They are therefore in charge of rejecting or accepting plea agreements, they oversee trials and they also sentence the convicted offenders (Law Library, 2011).

Corrections: Once the offender has been convicted and sentenced to jail, the correction officers are then put in charge of these convicts. The convicts are placed on probation, incarcerated, or transferred to community-based correctional facilities (Smith, 2003). The key role of the correctional officers is to make sure that the offenders are secure and safe.

The Process of the Criminal Justice System

The Criminal Justice Process envelops the procedures, through which the criminal justice system meets the societal expectations in the event of punishing crimes (Harcourt, 2002). The basic outline of the process in a sequential manner has four major stages.

The Entry into the system is the first stage and involves a report which is provided by the victims, witnesses, or other involved parties in a crime. This report is given to the law enforcement officers, who use it to carry out investigations. The investigations are geared towards the identification of suspects as well as finding enough and concrete evidence that warrants arrest of the suspects if found guilty of the offenses/crimes committed (Chaiken & Huizinga, 2005). The Arrest of Citation is the last part, depending on the evidence the suspect is either arrested or is issued with a citation that requires him or her to appear in court on a specific time or date.

The second stage involves Prosecution and Pretrial. The prosecutor evaluates the evidence collected by the law enforcement officers and determines whether to file written charges or release the accused without prosecution. The First Court Appearance is what follows, that is if the prosecutor files formal charges (Harcourt, 2002). This first appearance is meant to inform the accused of his or her rights and the judges make decisions on whether to hold or release him or her. The judges also decide whether to put the accused in jail or release him or her on bond, bail, or on his/her own. What follows is Grand Jury or Preliminary Hearing, the evidence is presented by the prosecutor and the jury of citizens decides whether the evidence is concrete enough to indict the accused (Harcourt, 2002). An arraignment in court is what follows. Here the accused is informed of his/her rights and pleads guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If he/she pleads guilty then a date for trial is set.

Adjudication (Trial Process) is the third stage and involves plea agreements and the trial. A plea agreement is an instance where the defendant agrees to plead guilty for one or more charges in exchange for the dismissal of one or more charges. Trials are normally held before the bench trial or a jury trial; this is dependent on the severity or seriousness of the case. If the defendant is found guilty a date for sentencing is set and if not guilty then he or she is released (Chaiken & Huizinga, 2005).

Post Trial is the last stage and involves sentencing. In this stage, a victim impact statement can be issued. The judge normally has a wide range of choices that are dependent on the crime committed and they include restitution, fines, probation, jail, prison, or the death penalty.


The criminal justice system, as well as the process, highly relies upon different jurisdictions e.g. state or county. The ultimate purpose of the Criminal Justice System is to control crime, prevent crime and provide plus maintain justice (Harcourt, 2002).


Chaiken, M. & Huizinga, D. (2005). Critical Criminal Justice Issues. National Institute of Justice – U.S. Dept. of Justice. Web.

Harcourt, B. E. (2002). Exploring the Relationship Between The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law and The Expressive Function of Punishment. University at Buffalo – The State University of New York. Web.

Law Library. (2011). Criminal Justice System – Structural And Theoretical Components Of Criminal Justice Systems, The Systems In Operation, The Importance Of Viewing Criminal Justice As A System. American Law and Legal Information Encyclopedia. Web.

Morrison, W. (2008). What is Crime? Contrasting Definitions and Perspectives. Oxford University Press. Web.

Schmallager, F. (2009). Criminal Justice Today, (10th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Smith, A. J. (2003). Criminal Justice Today. West Valley Community College – California. Web.

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