The Role of the Criminal Justice System

Written by mike broemmel
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The Role of the Criminal Justice System
Overview of the criminal justice system in the U.S. (the old jail image by mavrick from

The criminal justice system in the U.S. serves three primary purposes. The criminal justice system exists to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes. In each state, and in the federal system, two separate codes guide the operation of the criminal justice system. These are the codes of criminal law and the codes of criminal procedure. A code of criminal law establishes what constitutes crimes in certain jurisdictions. A code of criminal procedure establishes the manner in which an alleged criminal offender is prosecuted for a crime and sentenced to a punishment if convicted.


A basic role of the criminal justice system is to investigate crimes. Different types of law enforcement agencies participate in the investigation of criminal activity. These include agencies on the city, county, state and federal levels. At the conclusion of an investigation, if a law enforcement agency believes there is sufficient evidence that a particular individual committed a crime, a referral of the case is made to the appropriate prosecuting attorney.


Another role of the criminal justice system is prosecuting individuals who allegedly violated criminal laws on the state or federal level and ordinances on the city or county level. The Constitution of the United States establishes the basic rights that accrue to a defendant in the criminal justice system. These include a right to a trial before a jury of the defendant's peers.

The prosecution phase can take a number of courses, including a dismissal of the case, a settlement between the defendant and prosecuting attorney or a finding of guilty after a trial.


The criminal justice system also punishes convicted criminal offenders. Punishment in the criminal justice system takes many forms, including incarceration, probation, fines and other penalties.

In addition to punishing a criminal offender, the criminal justice system also develops programs designed to rehabilitate a criminal offender, programs designed to prevent recidivism when at all possible.

Time Frame

The criminal justice system establishes a variety of different time frames. The statute of limitations is one example of time frames imposed in the criminal justice system. The statute of limitations establishes the time frame in which a criminal case must be filed following the crime itself. Some cases like murder and kidnapping have no deadline for filing a case.

The constitutional right represents another important time frame in the criminal justice system. Statutes in different jurisdictions define speedy trial. A common time frame is six months from the date of arraignment (the formal reading of charges in court).

A final time frame in the criminal justice system is the sentence imposed by the court. The length of a sentence includes the time committed to jail or prison or the time ordered to serve on probation.

Expert Insight

Criminal law and the procedures associated with the criminal justice system are complex and challenging. Therefore, if you face criminal charges, retaining qualified and experienced legal counsel is a wise course. The local and state bar associations maintain directories of attorneys in different practice areas, including criminal defence. Contact information for these organisations is available from the American Bar Association at.

American Bar Association 321 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60654-7598 312-988-5000

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