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The Criminal Justice System: A Questionable Egalitarian Model

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The Criminal Justice System: A Questionable Egalitarian Model Two basic forces can be found at work in the daily operation of the criminal justice system. On the one hand, it can be seen that the components of the criminal justice system are parts of organizational bureaucracies, which emphasize "initiative," often times at the expense of adherence to rules and regulations. On the other hand, there is the "rule of law," which emphasizes the rights of individual citizens and is designed to maintain constraints on the initiative of legal officials. The tension between these two forces constitutes one of the main problems of criminal justice agencies in their attempts to operate as democratic institutions. Furthermore, the tension between "order" and "legality" is related to the public demand that the institutions of criminal justice actually provide justice, rather than merely intending to provide it. For various reasons, there is widespread suspicion in society that the institutions of criminal justice are failing to actually secure justice. This suspicion, in turn, is eroding the trust and confidence imbued upon these institutions by the very constituency they are responsible for serving. This paper will discuss this statement as it relates to the three major segments of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Many scholars in the social science, and legal field contend that the problems of attaining justice are related to the issue of using initiative for the sake of efficiency, rather than to the existence of the rule of law to protect the rights of citizens. This view is expressed, for example, by Steven Vago (2000) in his book Law and Society, where the concept of "initiative" is referred to as "discretion." According to Vago, "a high degree of discretion is characteristic of every phase of criminal prosecution" (p. 130). The police, for example, are given discretion in regard to whether or not they will arrest a particular lawbreaker. ...read more.


However, because the criminal justice system in the United States is "dynamic," other "institutional players" have responded to the development of these procedural rules and have thereby undermined the ability of the courts to effectively carry out their functions. Specifically, Brown claims that legislatures have reacted by "expanding substantive criminal law" and by "underfunding criminal defense (as well as prosecution offices)" (p. 2146). As discussed earlier in this paper, the expansion of substantive criminal law (as seen in efforts to "get tougher on crime") often results in decreased justice for minorities and other types of people who are labeled as being potentially "disreputable." The under-funding of prosecutors and defense lawyers contributes to this problem, as does the expansion of procedural rules, which Brown notes increase prosecution costs. According to Brown, these situations may cause prosecutors to avoid trying to build cases against wealthier defendants, who "can afford to invoke the procedural rights as defense mechanisms" (p. 2146). In such cases, greater effort will be pursued in securing destitute defendants. Therefore, the problem described by Brown provides yet another indication that people are justified when they have suspicion that the institutions of criminal justice are failing to secure true justice. An ad hoc sign that there may be a lack of justice in the criminal justice system can be seen in the problem of racial disproportion in the nation's prisons. According to Cannon (2000), the United States, in the year 2000, attained the "dubious milestone" of having put 2 million of its citizens in jails or prisons; this is four times the number of prisoners that had existed in the 1980s (p. 36). However, this dramatic increase in the size of the prison population was not combined with a similar increase in the amount of crime in the country. In fact, the crime rate had been steadily declining since the early 1990s. As noted by Cannon, the "law and order advocates" claim that the decline in the crime rate is related to the increase in the incarceration rate. ...read more.


This paper, has also shown that initiative is widely used throughout the other parts of the criminal justice system. For example, in the courts, judges are generally given a great deal of leeway in making decisions regarding such matters as sentencing or setting bail. However, again, the use of discretion in the courts has resulted in controversies. For example, it has been claimed that prosecutors have obtained too much power as a result of the trend toward "getting tough on crime." As noted, this type of power is capable of being corrupted, and therefore it gives rise to concerns about the possibility of abuses and injustice. Another problem in the courts is related to the over-utilization of plea bargaining, a trend that many have claimed undermines the right to due process. Also, plea bargaining has been called unjust because it often results in guilty suspects receiving lighter sentences than they actually deserve. Yet, some legal experts defend plea bargaining because the courts are overburdened, and plea bargains help resolve cases involving guilty suspects more cost-efficient. The exclusion rule was also discussed as a problem that often results in unjust court decisions; in this case, the exclusion of vital evidence sometimes results in guilty suspects getting away with their crimes. Despite these considerations, it was also shown that there are arguments in favor of criminal justice personal having the ability to make flexible use of initiative whenever it is needed (as long as it does not result in a blatant violation of an individual's rights). Therefore, in response to the suspicion that the institutions of criminal justice are failing to secure justice, it can be seen that this is indeed often the case. However, it does not seem that the solution to this problem is found in eliminating either individual rights or the ability of criminal law professionals to utilize "constrained" forms of initiative. In order for the criminal justice system to attain a greater sense of justice, some type of cooperative balance needs to be found between these two major forces. ...read more.

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