Criminal Justice Guide was last modified: December 24th, 2016 by Howard Iken

A Guide to Criminal Justice

The U.S. criminal justice system is the process by which crime is dealt with and the agencies who oversee these processes. There are two main bodies that handle crime: the state criminal justice system and the federal criminal justice system. Within these are five components that assist in the prosecution of crime. The first is law enforcement. Law enforcement officers investigate crimes, follow up on open cases, give testimony in court, and protect victims. Prosecutors and defense attorneys represent the federal government (also known as “the people”) and the accused respectively. They make sure that the best interest of their client is being served, and that all evidence is being presented in a legal manor.

The court system is in place to oversee legal proceedings. Usually, a jury of twelve peers and a judge are present to review the facts of the case and make a decision accordingly. Lastly, when a person is convicted of a crime they are sent to corrections. Corrections officers oversee their stay in jail or their time on probation and are responsible for both the offender and the public.

There are several steps taken in the criminal justice system that are important to the overall flow of the process. First, a report is made; from this report, law enforcement officers determine whether or not a crime has been committed and if an arrest needs to be made. If an arrest is made, the defendant will see a judge to determine if they will be remanded into custody or released on bail. A court date is usually set at this time. If the crime is a misdemeanor, the case may or may not be sent to jury trial. If the crime is a felony, a grand jury must opt to indite. After the accused is indited, the case goes to trial and a determination is made as to the guilt of the accused by a jury of his or her peers. If found guilty, they may be sentenced to jail time (less than one year), prison time (more than one year) or probation, and are then under the care of the corrections department.

The criminal justice system is much different than the civil court system. In civil court, the violation is usually against an individual or entity – such as a business or agency. In addition, the victim controls the actions taken throughout the trial rather than the federal or state government. The victim also does not have to get a unanimous decision, they only have to prove to a majority that the accused is at fault and therefore liable for damages. The penalty is generally monetary and the victim is able to sue whether or not the accused is found guilty in a criminal court. Lastly, the biggest difference is that the victim and accused are seen as being on equal footing with regards to their treatment in court.


The Criminal Justice System in the U.S.


Famous Cases


Common Terminology


Careers in Criminal Justice


Crime Prevention


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