criminology unit 7: enforcing the law and the nature of courts

Terms in this set (10)

In 1964, Herbert L. Packer discussed what he saw as two competing models, crime control and due process, in the criminal justice systems of democratic societies. The crime control model indicates that the criminal justice system has the goal of apprehending and punishing those who commit crimes. Packer argued that the most important feature of the crime control model is reducing or stopping crime in society. The model assumes that those arrested are guilty and stresses processing and convicting offenders as efficiently and effectively as possible. In other words, the crime control model can be viewed as a grocery store conveyer belt with offenders put on the belt by law enforcement and proceeding in a fast, orderly fashion through the check-out or sentencing and corrections process.

Competing with this aim of punishing quickly and efficiently those who commit crimes is the due process model which argues that the criminal justice system has to protect suspects from errors and the abuses that can occur in the system. This model sees the criminal justice system has having many errors that could occur as suspects are arrested and sentenced. Protecting innocent individuals from being convicted and protecting the rights of those arrested and sentenced are the key features of this model.

The tensions between these two models and how we approach crime as a society have consequences for everyone involved. If we, as a society, focus on crime control, we will have less due process and if we focus on due process, we will have less crime control. While we often believe that we are not tough enough on crime or that the system doesn't work as efficiently as it should, think about what life would be like in a society that operated under a pure crime control model. In such a society, you could be arrested at any point (without probable cause), be tortured or have to endure other injustices, and could be sentenced to prison or death without a trial. Most of us would probably agree that we would not want to live in such a society. Although the tensions between the crime control and due process model means that some offenders may not be punished for their crimes, it also helps ensure that people are treated more fairly in regard to being arrested and convicted of a crime. Finding a balance between individual rights and crime control is what society continues to struggle for.
Police work involves a range of situations and factors: danger, stress, discretionary decisions, temptations, and interaction with people who may be hostile, stressed, or grieving. Not everyone can handle the demands of working as a police officer so selecting individuals to join the ranks of law enforcement is an important decision.

Today, the selection process of police officers includes a number of different procedures. In most areas, candidates have to have a clean record, be in good physical condition, pass a background check, and have at least a high school diploma. Many places require a written exam, a psychological evaluation, and other tests that simulate real life situations that the police may find themselves in. Many police departments also require that officers live within the jurisdiction that they work in. The education level of police departments is also rising, with the majority of police officers in many areas holding a bachelor's degree. Police departments are also recruiting and hiring more minority and female police officers than they have in the past.

Once accepted into the ranks of the police, an individual is introduced to the police subculture, which is a set of norms and values governing police behavior. One of the reasons why this subculture exists is due to the danger, stress, and isolation that are common in police work. Recruits learn these values and norms starting in the training that they receive at police academies. They learn not only the formal rules about policing but also the informal ones that are expected by others in this subculture. At the heart of the police subculture is the obligation of support and loyalty to other police officers. Other aspects that also play a role are group solidarity, honor, and respect for police authority.

Many police officers find that the uniform isolates them. While in uniform, they may be constantly approached by people who want to complain about something or have information about crime and criminals. Many police officers choose to associate with their family and other officers while off-duty. The blue curtain or a "screen" that separates the police from the community may result when officers are isolated from the wider society in this way. This blue curtain can have both positive and negative affects for officers and the wider community.
In the last unit, we briefly talked about the decisions that the police have to make when a crime is reported. Law enforcement makes important decisions at each point in the criminal justice process that involves them. Let's take a closer look at one decision that the police have to make: whether to arrest a suspect or not. You are probably already aware that the police have some discretion available to them in making decisions. After all, some people receive traffic tickets while others do not for the same offense. The same is true for arrests. But what determines whether a person will get a ticket or not or whether they will be arrested or not?

Most studies indicate that the police actually arrest few suspects. The most important factor in this decision is whether they feel they have enough evidence to convict the individual. The stronger the evidence that the person committed the crime, the more likely an arrest will happen. For example, if a store manager catches a teen shoplifting and the teen has the item in her bag, the police will be more likely to arrest her than if an item is missing and the store manager only suspects that the teen had something to do with the missing item.

Other than evidence, what makes a police officer more likely to arrest a suspect? Studies show that an individual is more likely to be arrested if the victim is a stranger to the suspect and if the victim favors an arrest in the situation. Suspects who are hostile to the police may be more likely to be arrested that those who are respectful, although the research on this is mixed when overtly hostile acts (like hitting a police officer) are not included in the studies.

Many researchers have also examined the role that race may play in arrest decisions. A disproportionate number of African Americans and Hispanic Americans are arrested. In other words, although African Americans make up about 13% of the population, they represent about 27% of all arrests (with higher percentages for violent crimes). The question is whether these disproportionate numbers represent more involvement in street crime or whether the police are discriminating when deciding to arrest a suspect based on his or her race.

The evidence suggests that race does play a role in police decisions. There is quite a bit of evidence showing that some police officers routinely harass minorities. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are often stopped and questioned about crimes for no reason (in other words, there is nothing to tie them specifically to the crime). However, while different treatment based on race appears to be common informally, there is less evidence that race plays a role in arrest decisions. While minorities may be arrested at greater rates, some researchers suggest that this is may be due to more hostility on the part of minority suspects toward the police, the greater likelihood of being suspected of a street crime, and that victims in cases involving minority suspects are more likely to favor arrests. Scholars note that the greater hostility on the part of minority suspects is not undeserved as many of these individuals have been racially profiled in other circumstances. Racial profiling is different treatment based on a person's race or ethnicity. Many studies have suggested that some police officers do treat people differently based on their race or ethnicity. This should not surprise us since discrimination and racism still exist in society and it would be unlikely for this to exist in society but not exist in police forces.
Community policing refers to programs and policies that partner law enforcement with the communities that they serve. The push for such cooperation came in the 1960s, after riots in places like Los Angeles reinforced the idea that many people, particularly minorities, viewed the police as separate from the communities that they were serving. The emphasis in community policing is to have law enforcement and the community work together to determine what the community needs and how to fulfill these needs. In other words, community members become involved in reducing crime within their own communities and neighborhoods. Through such programs, law enforcement becomes viewed as serving the community rather than an institution against the community.

Many different programs have been developed in the area of community policing. Some neighborhoods participate in foot patrols or Neighborhood Watch programs. Other neighborhoods may have police-sponsored activities for young people. The aim of many of these programs is to foster a sense of trust between the police and the community. In addition, programs like Neighborhood Watch offer the community more eyes and ears in the neighborhood which can help prevent crimes and help catch those who do commit crimes.

While community policing has been popular, a number of studies have shown that these programs seem to have little effect on crime. Research on Neighborhood Watch, for example, has indicated that the program may actually increase the fear of crime, but not prevent crime. Many communities have also struggled with how to implement such programs. Police officers may be resistant to community policing programs and neighboring groups may have different needs and wants, making the process of choosing goals for the programs difficult.

Police-community relations programs are different from community policing in that they aim to change the community's perceptions of law enforcement but not change the way policing is done. These programs may include having police officers visit schools, giving out good citizen awards to community members, allowing citizens to ride along with the police, and giving tours of police headquarters. Such actions have been shown to have positive benefits, including increasing the likelihood that people will share information with the police, more compliance with the law, and better relationships between minority groups and law enforcement. Studies show that when the community perceives the police to be respectful and responsive to community needs, there is often a greater willingness to follow the law and lower rates of repeat offenses.
The state court system handles more cases than the federal system. Of about 90 million cases filed in state courts around the country, there are about 14 million criminal cases, 15 million civil cases, and over 55 million traffic and other local violation cases. Juvenile and domestic cases round out the number of court cases found in the state system. Most states use a three tier system of courts.

Courts of Limited Jurisdiction: these courts handle minor criminal cases, traffic violations, and less serious civil suits. These courts are typically overseen by a Justice of the Peacee* who is a judge, not necessarily trained in the law, who oversees these more minor cases. These courts handle over half of the cases in state courts.

Courts of General Jurisdictionn*: these courts are major trail courts that have jurisdiction over all cases. Typically, these courts exist at the county level although some states may have several counties grouped under one court.

Appellate Courts: these courts have the power to review any judgment made in the other courts of the state system. Any person convicted of a crime has the right to appeal their conviction to the appellate courts when there may be an error on a point of law. Many states have two appellate courts: an intermediate appellate court and a state supreme court. State supreme courtss* are the court of last resort and consist of five to nine judges who review cases.

State courts, then, handle many of the cases that we typically think of when we think of criminal and other cases. Most law violations will be handled by the state courts.

Federal courts are those that enforce and uphold federal laws. Federal laws can range from treason to environmental protection. The federal courts also have another function: to test whether state and federal laws are constitutional or not. For example, if a state banned all gun ownership, a court case on a violation of this law would probably be sent to the federal courts, where they would assess whether the law is constitutional or not. Although states may have different laws, each of their laws needs to follow the rights and protections set up in the constitution. The federal courts help make sure that the states do not set up and enforce laws that go against the principles set up constitutionally.

Federal Magistratess*: the lowest level of jurisdiction in the federal system is federal magistrates. They have jurisdiction over minor federal offenses and have the important role of signing search or arrest warrants.

District Courtss*: these courts have both civil and criminal jurisdiction at the federal level. In the United States, there are 94 district courts. Drug cases are the largest category of cases handled in the district courts.

Circuit Court of Appealss*: these courts hear the appeals for individuals convicted in the district courts. There are 13 appeals courts in the United States.

The Supreme Courtt*: this court has the highest and final authority in the interpretation and application of the Constitution in the United States. The court consists of the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. Each Justice is appointed by the President of the United States. Each year, about 5,000 cases are filed with the Supreme Court, asking for a review of the case, and about 100 of these cases are accepted and reviewed.

While the state and federal courts act independently from each other in many ways, they are also connected to each other. For example, a state court may encounter a legal controversy that brings up federal constitutional issues as well.
The function of a trial is to decide whether an individual is guilty or innocent of the crime that they have been accused of. Many trials today involve a trial jury, which is a group of people legally selected who are sworn to give their verdict based on the evidence of the case. Traditionally, a jury has twelve individuals, although several alternates may also be included in case a jury member cannot complete the trial for some reason. The process of selecting the jury is called voir dire, which means "to see and speak" in French.

When choosing a jury, the lawyers for both the prosecution and defense are guided by three ideals. A juror has to meet the minimum qualifications such as living in the required jurisdiction and be of legal age.

They also look for jurors who will be impartial when hearing the case. Finally, they seek to gain information about each juror in order to spot potential biases or "causes" for them to exclude the individual from the jury. Each side has a particular number of peremptory challenges or objections to a juror for which no reason has to be offered. They also have challenges for cause which are objections to jurors for conflicts of interests. For example, an attorney might use a challenge for cause for a person related to the defendant.

After the jury selection, the trial begins with opening statements. The prosecution may outline the case in this statement and the defense has the option of giving or postponing their opening statement. Once this is finished, the prosecution will present its evidence against the defendant. When this is done, it is the defense's turn. If the evidence presented is very weak, the defense may call for an acquittal or a motion to dismiss. The judge will decide whether this is appropriate or not, based on the evidence present. In most cases, however, the defense will proceed. They will present their own evidence to suggest that the person did not commit the crime he or she is accused of. After this, the prosecution has another turn at presenting evidence and then the case goes to closing arguments. Finally, the jury will have to decide whether the prosecution has shown that the person committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jury deliberations occur in a private room. One juror is elected the foreperson and he or she will preside over the deliberations of the jury. Juries that do not reach a decision on the first day may be sent home with instructions not to discuss the case with anyone or sequestered, which means that the state puts the jurors up in hotel rooms and they are kept apart from their family and friends until the trial is over. When a verdict is decided on, the jurors return to court and it is announced to all parties.
Once someone has been found guilty of a crime, one of the most important decisions made is what type of sentence should be given to the offender. One of the most controversial of these decisions is whether to sentence an offender to death or not. Those in favor of the death penalty argue that some people deserve to be executed because of their crimes, that people will think twice about committing crimes like murder knowing that they might be executed if convicted, and that executing offenders saves money. Others argue that these arguments do not justify having the state execute an offender. They point out that the United States is currently the only Western nation to use the death penalty.

Scholars note that the death penalty actually costs the state more than life imprisonment. How is this possible, you may ask? One reason for this is that death penalty cases are often complicated ones with appeals. The state often has to pay for the costs of all of the various court proceedings, from the pretrial to the various appeals that may happen. Studies in North Carolina, for example, suggest that death penalty cases cost $2 million more than the average case ending in a life sentence.

Many people also argue that the death penalty acts as a crime deterrent. Yet, virtually every study that examines this issue finds that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent. States with the death penalty do not show lower rates of homicides and the rates of homicides are not affected by a recent execution. Some evidence even suggests that a recent execution may increase the rate of homicides. Scholars also note that many individuals who murder another do not weigh the possible consequences before committing the act. Homicides are often spontaneous acts done in the heat of the moment.

Some people also argue against the death penalty because of the possibility of wrongful conviction. Wrongful executions are those in which the person executed for a crime didn't commit the crime. Scholars estimate that about one percent of all felony convictions are mistakes. If someone is executed before a mistake is found, the situation can't be reversed or righted as the individual is already dead. Since 1900, about 350 individuals have been mistakenly convicted of a capital offense for a crime in which they were either certainly or probably innocent. Of these individuals, over 130 were sentenced to death and 23 were actually executed. Since 1976, over one hundred individuals have been released from prison after new evidence showed that they had not committed the crime that they were convicted of. Mistakes in the system can happen at every level. A witness may give false testimony, a person may confess to a crime that they didn't commit under duress, the defense lawyer may not do his or her best, or racial bias may result in people overlooking reasonable doubt or other evidence.