? The American experience with crime during the last half century has been especially influ- ential in shaping the criminal justice system of today. Although crime waves have come and gone, some events during the past century stand out as especially significant, including a spurt of widespread organized criminal activity associated with the Prohibition years of the early twentieth century, the substantial increase in “traditional” crimes during the 1960s and 1970s, the threat to the American way of life represented by illicit drugs around the same time, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.?
The theme of this book is that of individual rights versus public order. As this chapter points out, the personal freedoms guaranteed to law-abiding citizens as well as to criminal suspects by the Constitution must be closely guarded. At the same time, the urgent social needs of communities for controlling unacceptable behavior and protecting law-abiding citizens from harm must be recognized. This theme is represented by two opposing groups: individual- rights advocates and public-order advocates.
The fundamental challenge facing the practice of American criminal justice is in efficiently enforcing the laws while simultaneously recog- nizing and supporting the legal rights of suspects and the legitimate personal differences and prerogatives of individuals. ? Although justice may be an elusive concept, it is important to recognize that criminal justice is tied closely to notions of social justice, including personal and cultural beliefs about equity and fairness.
As a goal to be achieved, criminal justice refers to those aspects of social justice that concern violations of the criminal law. Although community interests in the administra- tion of criminal justice demand the apprehension and punishment of law violators, criminal justice ideals extend to the protection of the innocent, the fair treatment of offenders, and fair play by justice administration agencies. ?
In this chapter, we described the process of American criminal justice as a system with three major components—police, courts, and corrections—all of which can be described as work- ing together toward a common goal. We warned, however, that a systems viewpoint is useful primarily for the simplification that it provides. A more realistic approach to understanding criminal justice may be the nonsystem approach. As a nonsystem, the criminal justice pro- cess is depicted as a fragmented activity in which individuals and agencies within the process have interests and goals that at times coincide but often conflict.?
The stages of criminal case processing include investigation, the issuance of a warrant, arrest, booking, first appearance in court, defendant’s preliminary hearing, return of an indictment by the grand jury or filing of an information by the prosecutor, arraignment of the defendant before the court, adjudication or trial, sentencing, and corrections. As a field of study, correc- tions includes jails, probation, imprisonment, and parole. ? The principle of due process, which underlies the first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitu- tion, is central to American criminal justice.
Due process (also called due process of law) means procedural fairness and requires that criminal case processing be conducted with fairness and equity. The ultimate goal of the criminal justice system in America is achieving crime control through due process. ? The study of criminal justice as an academic discipline began in this country in the late 1920s and is well established today. Scientific research has become a major element in the increas- ing professionalization of criminal justice, and there is a strong call today for the application of evidence-based practices in the justice field.
Evidence-based practices are crime-fighting strategies that have been scientifically tested and that are based on social science research. ? American society today is a multicultural society, composed of a wide variety of racial and ethnic heritages, diverse religions, incongruous values, disparate traditions, and distinct lan- guages. Multiculturalism complicates the practice of American criminal justice because there is rarely universal agreement in our society about what is right or wrong or about what con- stitutes “justice. ”