The Criminal Justice System in the United States
Within the past several years, it has become almost impossible to open a news app, log on to a news website or turn on the television without hearing about the judicial system. With news about recent arrests, prison sentences, court hearings, or investigations becoming common in recent years. The judicial system plays a large part in every American’s Life. Nearly every American has had in some way, shape, or form an experience with the justice system. There are laws set in place to keep society running in a smooth and concise way, so that no one is harmed. Americans from a young age have been taught to follow the laws set into place. The judicial system was created to protect the innocent, punish or rehabilitate the guilty, and to make sure that society continues to run smoothly (DeRuyter). In recent years the judicial system has begun to fail American citizens. It is a corrupt and unequal system, that prays on minorities and the less fortunate. It no longer represents the American people, because it causes unnecessary pain to the people it should be protecting.
The main goal of the judicial system, also known as the criminal justice system, is to keep American citizens safe by upholding laws. It does this through a system of different components, that are all connected in some way, meaning each part must work together. There are five main components of the justice system, and they are all supposed to work together to keep American citizens safe. The components of the system are comprised of attorneys, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and prisons (“The Criminal Justice System”). These parts then work together to follow the several different steps to the justice system, depending on how severe the crime was. The process usually proceeds after a crime is reported, when law enforcement is tasked with finding, investigating, and arresting a possible criminal. Once law enforcement makes an arrest, a prosecutor determines what happens to them afterwards. They are the ones to decide whether a charge can be made, depending on how much evidence is available. If the criminal is sentenced a correctional officer than makes sure that the criminal follows through with their sentence (Theoharis). No part of the system should be underestimated, because each part plays an important role in protecting people, and keeping society running smoothly.
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The justice system also must take on the role of making sure that each person’s rights are upheld and that no innocent person is convicted of a crime they did not commit. This is where the role of the defense attorney arrives, their mission is to look at all the evidence provided to them. They are tasked with knowing everything about the case, to ensure that they provide a fair trial (Bird). A fair trial should be offered to everyone, no matter the crime or person. It is important that every person is given the same opportunity in court, this should set the checks and balances for the guilty and innocent. These checks and balances are meant to create an unbiased criminal justice system that protects the American people. Within the past fifty years the system has changed to incorporate more American people, not just the rich and white. The system is supposed to be impartial to income, race and age when it comes to the accused and victims. The only way to curb violence is to make sure that the criminal justice system works for all American people. While the criminal justice system does not stop crime indefinitely, yet it is still essential for ensuring the safety of citizens, and to make sure that America has an effective, reliable, and respected judicial system (“Criminology Assignments”). If the people don’t trust the system it will not work; however, if people where to believe and trust the system it should be able to protect citizens and prevent crime.
Whether or not the system is able to effectively protect and prevent crime is up for debate. Whatever the answer to that question it does not change the fact that the criminal justice system has amendments to uphold, and rules that must be followed. The fourth, through the seventh amendment all pertain to the justice system and the American people. These amendments protect American citizens from unwarranted searches, and protect American freedom. They also make sure that accused people have rights and protects the right of people in civil cases (Nelson). This country was built on these ideas and it is important that they are followed, without these amendments the American people would have no rights within the justice system.
Just because the system has rules and regulations, does not mean that there are not problems with this system. There are several places within the system that can easily breakdown, causing catastrophes that harm citizens. The most common type of breakdown is within the courts, it can also be the most harmful of any of the system’s breakdowns. This problem comes in the form of court backlog, when cases get piled up because there are more cases then there are judges. Mark Hostager, a judge for the state of Iowa explains that without judges the cases are not being heard in a timely manner (Harbin). When the case sits for several weeks to months, evidence can be messed with, and the case can change for the worse. Mark Hostager also points out how court backlog affects American people, “think of an accused person sitting in jail awaiting trial, or the victim of a crime awaiting the outcome of a trial” (Harbin). Court backlog happens incredibly easy, and its effects are disastrous. From an innocent person that sits in jail for months, or the victim that may never get closure, often the cases that get put last are ones involving minorities.
Backlog has become a staple to the courts in the justice system, and it seems to have only become worse in recent years. With the increase of immigrants flowing into America, courts have been delayed and backlogged with increasing cases over immigrants. More and more politicians are promising to crack down on more immigrant cases as well, which will cause the court backlog to grow even more. U.S Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco has even said that “courts are already processing about seventy-five immigration cases a day” (Rosenberg). With seventy-five cases being looked at in one day there is no room for adding more, and no room for the courts to put time and effort into these cases. The amount of immigration cases has spread resources thin throughout the entire justice system.
It is in no way the fault of immigrants that cases are clogging up the system; in fact, there would not be that many immigrant cases if the President had not promised to crack down on deporting immigrants. This blatant racism towards immigrants played a huge part in the process of clogging up the system. Racism plays an incredibly large part within the justice system. African American citizens are discriminated against at every level, and there is plenty of evidence to prove this. It is no surprise either, that black citizens are treated differently from their white counterparts. The justice system was created during the Jim Crow era, and the “modern criminal justice system helped preserve racial order—it kept black people in their place” (Balko). While American society has come a long way since the Jim Crow era, it is still more likely for a black man to be arrested over something small, like weed possession; meanwhile, his white neighbor can get away with something as horrendous as rape. A black man is twenty times more likely to be given a longer sentence than a white male who has committed the same crime (United States Sentencing Commission). African Americans are also “incarcerated in state prisons at a rate of 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites” (Nellis). This goes to show how large the difference is between African American’s sentences and white American’s sentences. It is easy to look at these facts and just see numbers; however, it is important to see the people behind the numbers, because these are real people being affected by an unfair system that cares more about skin color than innocence.
The criminal justice system should not take into consideration skin color when it comes to sentencing criminals, yet black individuals, mainly black teenagers are at a far greater risk because of their skin color. The color of an Americans skin may mean the difference between freedom, jail, or the death sentence. University of Maryland Professor Ray Paternoster looked at data from the Harris County in Texas, he found that in certain cases “the Harris County District Attorney’s Office sought the death penalty twenty percent of the time when the defendant was white and seventy percent of the time when the defendant was African-American”” (Bandele). The criminal justice system is rigged against African Americans, it is unable to accurately do its job when it is more lenient towards one race. The justice system is meant to protect all American people, yet it deliberately targets minorities and does not treat them the same as white American citizens.
African Americans are not the only race that are affected by an unfair justice system, Hispanics and Native Americans are just as likely to be sentenced unjustly. Native Americans compared to white citizens are twice as likely to be imprisoned (Kilgore). A survey also shows that nearly fifteen percent of Hispanics have had in the past couple of years a family member arrested and thus afraid to trust the justice system. Hispanics also tend to be underreported and under documented in the justice system (Lopez and Livingston). Native Americans and Hispanics may not be as afflicted or targeted by the justice system as African American citizens are, but it still shows how the criminal justice system is unable to protect minority American citizens. If Americans with different skin colors cannot trust the system that is meant to protect them and keep them safe, then it is not doing its job correctly or effectively.