Criminal Justice

From medieval times to the 200 year reign of the Bloody Code to today, the criminal justice system has undergone a handful of revolutions throughout the centuries, each one seemingly justified for its time.

There was a time when certain aspects of criminal justice were in the hands of civilians as far as capturing and bringing an offender to court. There was also a time when the death penalty (by public hanging) was commonplace for petty offenses and children as young as seven could be charged with crimes and punished.

These same “scare tactics” are still used today, but modern tactics are not as extreme. Today, the foundation of the modern criminal justice system holds steady, but new laws, big and small, are passed everyday. To understand today's criminal justice system, it is important to understand what criminal justice means.

What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is any and all activities related to tracking down and apprehending criminals, pretrial and post-trial discharge, prosecution, probation, supervision while incarcerated and rehabilitation supervision of convicted or alleged criminal offenders.

In the academic world, the study of criminal justice covers: criminology, police procedure and history, the correctional system and the legal aspects and rules of the court system and procedures. Another facet of criminal justice is administration. Administration includes gathering, storage and distribution of criminal history records and criminal identification activities.

Crimes and Congress

Long gone are the days of lawyer-less interrogations and public punishments. In today's modern criminal justice system, criminals and alleged criminals have just as many rights as victims. In fact, one tiny mistake by a police officer, team of investigators, attorney or judge and a guilty party can easily “get away with murder.”

In the United States criminal justice system, Congress decides which types of conduct will be deemed illegal, what the laws will be and which punishments are appropriate for the individuals that break the laws and also for those that enforce them. Congress has the power to create crimes and punishments in order to protect the government and society and as long as the crimes, laws and punishments do not contradict the state or United States Constitution. This means crimes and punishments may be created, altered or outlawed at anytime, as necessary.

Classification of Crimes

Crimes are classified into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies, with several felony sub- categories depending on state/jurisdiction. A misdemeanor is a crime that is less serious than a felony, resulting in a less severe punishment. If the resulting sentence from a misdemeanor is prison, the term is typically less than one year. In many cases, the offender will serve no jail time at all and depending on the state or jurisdiction, the offender may be fined an amount no greater than $2,500. In the criminal justice system, examples of misdemeanors include: vandalism, prostitution and simple assault.

In criminal justice, a felony is a serious crime, such as murder or rape, which is punished more severely than a misdemeanor. A felony can carry a sentence of several years to several decades or life and being convicted of a felony can even result in the death penalty. In the criminal justice system, juveniles are treated differently whether their crime is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. The aim for juvenile criminals is rehabilitation, not punishment. It is believed that a person under a certain age can be still be deterred from a life of crime with the proper care and counseling provided through the U.S. criminal justice system.

By Michelle Burton           

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