Pro & Cons of the Criminal Justice System

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The US criminal justice system is a complex legal institution that provides a means for policing American society and imprisoning individuals who may pose a threat to its citizens.

The criminal justice system is tasked with ensuring that criminals are punished appropriately for their crimes and reformed so that they can become productive citizens after serving a prison sentence. Many aspects of the system are controversial; its pros and cons often depend on personal views.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

One of the key facets of the criminal justice system is that those arrested for crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This rule can serve to prevent gross injustices, such as convictions made by juries and judges even when no evidence links a defendant to a crime. On the other hand, this rule can allow those who are guilty a chance to escape imprisonment. For instance, if a man is arrested for murder, but there is inadequate evidence against him--or his legal council is very skilled--he might be found not guilty.

Trial by Jury

The criminal justice system involves a trial process in which accused criminal defendants are judged by a jury of their peers. The jury must come to a consensus to either convict or exonerate the accused. Evaluation by a jury of average citizens with no prior knowledge of the case helps eliminate bias that may exist if a cases was decided by a single judge or legal panel. Trials can last a long time, however, if jurors do not see eye to eye. Also, even though juries are in theory made up of unbiased individuals, jurors may still have hidden biases.

Legal Representation

Criminal defendants have the right to legal representation during a trial. Individuals who cannot afford representation are provided lawyers by the government. Some consider having their taxes pay for counsel for criminal defendants a drawback of the justice system. Another con is that all legal counsel is not created equal. For instance, a rich businessman accused of a white collar crime may be able to afford a large legal team that could provide a more comprehensive legal defence than a public defender could provide for a lower-income individual. According to Cliffs Notes, The poor are more likely than the wealthy to be arrested for any category of crime, and they are often unable to afford bail so they cannot work in their own defence.