Criminal Justice System: How it Works

What is Criminal Justice System (CJS)?

CJS is a chain of sections established by the government to control crime and to protect citizenry from various violations and offenses. CJS of the United States consists of different systems in different areas depending on the jurisdiction that is in charge of: city, county, state, federal or tribal government, etc. Varying from area to area, CJS works differently regarding the law, agencies and the whole justice process itself. The main system encompasses State CJS and Federal CJS:

1)      State CJS handles crimes committed within the boundaries of one state;

2)      Federal CJS handles crimes committed in more than one state or on federal properties.

How CJS Works

The criminal justice process starts when the crime is observed. The process itself is a sequence of events that may vary from area to area depending on the jurisdictions and the seriousness of the crime. There are also other factors like age (juvenile or adult), etc. that can affect the process. Not all the components of criminal justice process can be applied in that sequence that is given below; some may be even rejected because of lack of evidence or non-correspondence to the case.

Hereby, the criminal justice process is comprised of four major steps that process a case from the inception, through pre-trial and trial phases to punishment or post-trial stage.

  • Inception– this stage starts when law-enforcement officers receive the crime report from the victim or witnesses of the crime. From then on, they start the process of investigation in regard to finding enough evidence to build a case. In case law-enforcement officers find enough evidence, they arrest the suspect or, depending on the case, issue a citation for the suspect to appear in the court at a specific time. If the officer couldn’t find enough evidence or a suspect, the case remains open.
  • Pre-trial– the case is continued in the prosecution, where the prosecutor weighs the evidence to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not. Hence, the prosecutor considers whether to file a written complaint (or charge) or to release the defendant without prosecution. If the prosecutor decides to write a complaint, the defendant has to appear in court to be informed about the case details and his or her rights. Depending on the reported evidence, the judge decides to hold the defendant or release him or her. The defendant becomes acknowledged with his/her rights and if the defendant can’t afford an attorney the court may appoint one to start the process. The judge can decide to release the defendant on bail, bond or on his or her “own Recognizance” (to appear in court when called on). If the defendant is released on bail, she or he pays a non-refundable fee. Through the preliminary hearings, the jury decides upon the defendant is guilty or not for making further decision, which is entry into the trial phase. If the defendant is not guilty, no trial is held.
  • Trial– this stage determines the guiltiness of the defendant. If the defendant is guilty, there can be two ways to resolve the case. Most of the cases are resolved by plea agreements (when the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concessions from the prosecutor) or setting the date for sentencing.
  • Post-trial– in some cases the offenders may appeal the case to change the sentence, seek a new trial, etc. If no appeals occur, the offenders are sent to a jail or prison at a particular term.
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