Overview of the Criminal Justice System

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The criminal justice system is a set of legal and social institutions for enforcing the criminal law in accordance with a defined set of procedural rules and limitations. In the United States, there are separate federal, state, and military criminal justice systems; each state has separate systems for adults and juveniles.

Criminal justice systems include several major subsystems, composed of one or more public institutions and their staffs: police and other law enforcement agencies; trial and appellate courts; prosecution and public defender offices; probation and parole agencies; custodial institutions ( jails, prisons, reformatories, halfway houses, etc.); and departments of corrections (responsible for some or all probation, parole, and custodial functions). Some jurisdictions also have a sentencing guidelines commission. Other important public and private actors in this system include: defendants; private defense attorneys; bail bondsmen; other private agencies providing assistance, supervision, or treatment of offenders; and victims and groups or officials representing or assisting them (e.g., crime victim compensation boards). In addition, there are numerous administrative agencies whose work includes criminal law enforcement (e.g., driver and vehicle licensing bureaus; agencies dealing with natural resources and taxation). Legislators and other elected officials, although generally lacking any direct role in individual

Cases have a major impact on the formulation of criminal laws and criminal justice policy. Such policy is also strongly influenced by the news media and by businesses and public-employee labor organizations, which have a major stake in criminal justice issues.

The main components of the criminal justice system are law enforcement, prosecution, judiciary, corrections.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is one of the most visible aspects of the criminal justice system, and it usually is the branch that has first contact with offenders and victims of crime. In the United States, law enforcement includes federal, state and local departments. The DEA, or Drug Enforcement Administration, is one example of a federal police department. LAPD, or the Los Angeles Police Department, is a local version. Charged with enforcing law, protecting property and reducing civil disorder, officers are permitted to use force when necessary. Duties include receiving and documenting reports of crime, investigating reported crimes, gathering evidence, arresting the alleged offender and conducting follow-up investigations.

Prosecution

It is here that apprehended criminals are brought to justice. During the prosecutorial phase, a court date is set and a suspected criminal is brought to trial. In the United States, every defendant has rights that must be observed during the apprehension and prosecution phases. They include the rights to a speedy trial, legal representation, to be heard, and to be informed regarding the proceedings. Since the legal system is an adversarial one, the prosecution and defense work in opposition. The prosecution represents the interests of the state from the first court appearance through trial and up to the sentencing stage. The defense attorney represents the interests of the accused.

Judiciary

The judiciary component oversees court proceedings. It is the judge's duty to ensure that the law is followed at all stages of the criminal justice process, and the judge has the final say on matters of law. It is within a judge's discretion to release an offender, accept a guilty plea and determine a final sentence, all in keeping with the law.

Corrections

Corrections are the final phase of the criminal justice system and encompass imprisonment, parole and prison alternatives such as house arrest and probation, often referred to as community supervision. Duties of corrections staff, whether part of a prison or otherwise, include maintaining the security of a facility, providing...
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