The criminal justice system in the United States of America consists of three basic institutions which are:
- Law enforcement – Any case begins with the law enforcement officials investigating a crime to gather evidence against the presumed perpetrator.
- Court System – It further continues with the court weighing the evidence to determine if the defendant is guilty as charged.
- Corrections – If this is proven, the corrections system will ensure the criminal receives the punishment he/she deserves through incarceration and probation.
It is essential to understand that through each stage of the process, constitutional protections exist to deliver justice and ensure that the accused is allowed his/her rights.
Step 1: Law Enforcement
The two most important of these rights are the Miranda advisement and the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Miranda rights are the familiar phrase, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” Officers must remind the accused of these rights before they proceed any further.
The prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures makes it compulsory for officers to obtain a search warrant, without which they are not permitted to search the home of a suspect.
Step 2: Court System
One of the confinements on the court’s capacity to prosecute a case incorporates the privilege to stand up to one’s accusers, the right against implicating one’s self, the opportunity to counsel, and the privilege to a jury trial.
The defendant has the privilege to be represented by either a lawyer of their picking or if they can’t bear the cost of one, a court-designated counsel. The jury must be a reasonable cross-section of the community, which by and large won’t result in a panel comprised of a particular race or gender.
Step 3: Corrections
If convicted and punished to imprisonment, the accused will be sent to the corrections system to serve their term. This comprises of probation, incarceration, or both.
Probation can be either monitored or unmonitored. Probation that is monitored requires the offender to regularly check in with an officer to ensure compliance with the terms of his probation. Unmonitored probation means that an individual only faces imprisonment if they evade law any further.
Incarceration too is a common result of criminal trials and more so in case of serious criminal charges. The offender is housed subjected to a jail or prison term. Jails are usually for less serious offenses and do not exceed one year. Prison terms are longer than a year and are for serious crimes.