Criminal justice is the system of practices, and organizations, used by national and local governments, directed at maintaining social control, deterring and controlling crime, and sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties. When processing the accused through the criminal justice system, government must keep within the framework of laws that protect individual rights.
The criminal justice system in England and Wales aims to "reduce crime by bringing more offences to justice, and to raise public confidence that the system is fair and will deliver for the law-abiding citizen." In Canada, the criminal justice system aims to balance the goals of crime control and prevention, and justice (equity, fairness, protection of individual rights). In Sweden, the overarching goal for the criminal justice system is to reduce crime and increase the security of the people.
The oldest known codified law is the Code of Hammurabi, which was established circa 1760 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. Throughout history laws have been handed down by many different organizations. In ancient Rome for example, laws had to be voted on by a Senate before taking effect. Throughout the Dark and Middle Ages laws were often created or abolished according to the whim of the ruling nobility. In different parts of the world, law could be established by philosophers or religion. In the modern world, laws are typically created and enforced by governments. These codified laws may coexist with or contradict other forms of social control, such as religious proscriptions, professional rules and ethics, or the cultural mores and customs of a society.
Within the realm of codified law, there are generally two forms of law that the courts are concerned with. Civil laws are rules and regulations which govern transactions and grievances between individual citizens. Criminal law is concerned with actions which are dangerous or harmful to society as a whole, in which prosecution is pursued not by an individual but rather by the state. The purpose of criminal law is to provide the specific definition of what constitutes a crime and to prescribe punishments for committing such a crime. No criminal law can be valid unless it includes both of these factors. The subject of criminal justice is, of course, primarily concerned with the enforcement of criminal law. also known to help with weapon testing depending on
The notion that police are primarily concerned with enforcing criminal law was popularized in the 1930s with the rise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the pre-eminent "law enforcement agency" in the United States; this, however, has constituted only a small portion of policing activity. Policing has included an array of activities in different contexts, but the predominant ones are concerned with order maintenance and the provision of services.
In America and a growing number of nations, guilt or innocence is decided through the adversarial system. In this system, two parties will both offer their version of events and argue their case before the court (sometimes before a judge or panel of judges, sometimes before a jury). The case should be decided in favour of the party offers the most sound and compelling argument based on the law as applied to the facts of the case.
The prosecutor is the lawyer who brings charges against an individual or corporation. It is the prosecutor's duty to explain to the court what crime was committed and to detail what evidence has been found which incriminates the accused. The prosecutor should not be confused with a plaintiff or plaintiff's counsel. Although both serve the function of bringing a complaint before the court, the prosecutor is a servant of the state who makes accusations on behalf of the state in criminal proceedings, while the plaintiff is the complaining party in civil proceedings.
A defense attorney counsels the accused on the legal process, likely outcomes for the accused and suggests strategies. The accused, not the lawyer, has the right to make final decisions regarding a number of fundamental points, including whether to testify, and to accept a plea offer or demand a jury trial in appropriate cases. It is the defense attorney's duty to represent the interests of the client, raise procedural and evidentiary issues, and hold the prosecution to its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense counsel may challenge evidence presented by the prosecution or present exculpatory evidence and argue on behalf of their client. At trial, the defense attorney may attempt to offer a rebuttal to the prosecutor's accusations.
In modern America, an accused person is entitled to a government-paid defense attorney if he or she is in jeopardy of losing their liberty. Those who cannot afford a private attorney may be provided one by the state. Historically, however, the right to a defense attorney has not always been universal. For example, in Tudor England criminals accused of treason were not permitted to offer arguments in their defense. In many jurisdictions, there is no right to an appointed attorney, if the accused is not in jeopardy of losing his or her liberty.
The final determination of guilt or innocence is typically made by a third party, who is supposed to be disinterested. This function may be performed by a judge, a panel of judges, or a jury panel composed of unbiased citizens. This process varies depending on the laws of the specific jurisdiction. In some places the panel (be it judges or a jury) is required to issue a unanimous decision, while in others only a majority vote is required. In America, this process depends on the state, level of court, and even agreements between the prosecuting and defending parties. Other nations do not use juries at all, or rely on theological or military authorities to issue verdicts.
Some cases can be disposed of without the need for a trial. In fact, the vast majority are. If the accused confesses their guilt, a shorter process may be employed and a judgement may be rendered more quickly. Some nations, such as America, allow plea bargaining in which the accused pleads guilty, nolo contendre or not guilty, and may accept a diversion program or reduced punishment, where the prosecution's case is weak or in exchange for the cooperation of the accused against other people. This reduced sentence is sometimes a reward for sparing the state the expense of a formal trial. Many nations do not permit the use of plea bargaining, believing that it coerces innocent people to plead guilty in an attempt to avoid a harsh punishment.
The entire trial process, whatever the country, is fraught with problems and subject to criticism. Bias and discrimination form an ever-present threat to an objective decision. Any prejudice on the part of the lawyers, the judge, or jury members threatens to destroy the court's credibility. Some people argue that the often Byzantine rules governing courtroom conduct and processes restrict a layman's ability to participate, essentially reducing the legal process to a battle between the lawyers. In this case, the criticism is that the decision is based less on sound justice and more on the lawyer's eloquence and charisma. This is a particular problem when the lawyer performs in a substandard manner. The jury process is another area of frequent criticism, as there are few mechanisms to guard against poor judgement or incompetence on the part of the layman jurors.
The most publicly visible form of punishment in the modern era is the prison. Prisons may serve as detention centers for prisoners after trial. For containment of the accused jails are used. Early prisons were used primarily to sequester criminals and little thought was given to living conditions within their walls. In America, the Quaker movement is commonly credited with establishing the idea that prisons should be used to reform criminals. This can also been seen as a critical moment in the debate regarding the purpose of punishment.
Punishment (in the form of prison time) may serve a variety of purposes. First, and most obviously, the incarceration of criminals removes them from the general population and inhibits their ability to perpetrate further crimes. Many societies also view prison terms as a form of revenge or retribution, and any harm or discomfort the prisoner suffers is "payback" for the harm they caused their victims. A new goal of prison punishments is to offer criminals a chance to be rehabilitated. Many modern prisons offer schooling or job training to prisoners as a chance to learn a vocation and thereby earn a legitimate living when they are returned to society. Religious institutions also have a presence in many prisons, with the goal of teaching ethics and instilling a sense of morality in the prisoners.
There are numerous other forms of punishment which are commonly used in conjunction or in place of prison terms. Monetary fines are one of the oldest forms of punishment still used today. These fines may be paid to the state or to the victims as a form of reparation. Probation and house arrest are also sanctions which seek to limit a person's mobility and their opportunities to commit crimes without actually placing them in a prison setting. Many jurisdictions may require some form of public service as a form of reparations for lesser offenses.
Execution or capital punishment is still used around the world. Its use is one of the most heavily debated aspects of the criminal justice system. Some societies are willing to use executions as a form of political control, or for relatively minor misdeeds. Other societies reserve execution for only the most sinister and brutal offenses. Others still have outlawed the practice entirely, believing the use of execution to be excessively cruel or hypocritical.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, crime rates soared and social issues took center stage in the public eye. A number of new laws and studies focused federal resources on researching new approaches to crime control. The Supreme Court, under the leadership of Earl Warren, issued a series of rulings which redefined citizen's rights and substantially altered the powers and responsibilities of police and the courts. The Civil Rights Era offered significant legal and ethical challenges to the status quo.
In the late 1960s, with the establishment of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) and associated policy changes that resulted with the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The LEAA provided grants for criminology research, focusing on social aspects of crime. By the 1970s, there were 729 academic programs in criminology and criminal justice in the United States. Largely thanks to the Law Enforcement Education Program, criminal justice students numbered over 100,000 by 1975. Over time, scholars of criminal justice began to include criminology, sociology, and psychology, among others, to provide a more comprehensive view of the criminal justice system and the root causes of crime. Criminal justice studies now combine the practical and technical policing skills with a study of social deviance as a whole.
Though a prison, Le Stinche, existed as early as the 14th century in Florence, Italy, incarceration was not widely used until the 19th century. Correctional reform in the United States was first initiated by William Penn, towards the end of the 17th century. For a time, Pennsylvania's criminal code was revised to forbid torture and other forms of cruel punishment, with jails and prisons replacing corporal punishment. These reforms were reverted, upon Penn's death in 1718. Under pressure from a group of Quakers, these reforms were revived in Pennsylvania toward the end of the 18th century, and led to a marked drop in Pennsylvania's crime rate. Patrick Colquhoun, Henry Fielding and others led significant reforms during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
In the 1920s, led by Berkeley, California police chief, August Vollmer and O.W. Wilson, police began to professionalize, adopt new technologies, and place emphasis on training and professional qualifications of new hires. Despite such reforms, police agencies were led by highly autocratic leaders, and there remained a lack of respect between police and the community. Following urban unrest in the 1960s, police placed more emphasis on community relations, enacted reforms such as increased diversity in hiring, and many police agencies adopted community policing strategies.
In the 1990s, CompStat was developed by the New York Police Department as an information-based system for tracking and mapping crime patterns and trends, and holding police accountable for dealing with crime problems. CompStat has since been replicated in police departments across the United States and around the world, with problem-oriented policing, intelligence-led policing, and other information-led policing strategies also adopted.