Sample Essay on Introduction to Criminal Justice

Introduction to Criminal Justice
Criminal justice refers to the use of criminal law and criminal procedures to punish offenders and maintain order in the society. The society defines crimes by setting standards for acceptable and unacceptable behavior (Croddy & Hayes, 2012, p. 7). Acts that injure the society are prohibited using specific laws. This means, the law defines crime. The criminal justice system ensures that individuals who commit crime are punished. The paper outlines the main components of criminal justice to provide the reader with basic knowledge about how criminal justice works and lay the foundation for further analysis and research in the subject. The body of the paper is organized into four main components: crime, law enforcement, the criminal justice procedure, and juvenile justice.
The legal definition of crime consists of four main elements: guilty act, criminal intent, linkage between the guilty act and criminal intent, and causation. A guilty act refers to an outlawed conduct (Croddy & Hayes, 2012, p. 10). The law defines crimes in terms of acts rather than thoughts. For example, while rape is a crime, thinking about raping someone is not. However, some criminal cases involve inaction rather than action. For example, parents who neglect their children could face prosecution under certain circumstances. Criminal intent refers to the will to commit a prohibited act. Criminal conduct and criminal intent must have a direct linkage, meaning that the two elements must occur simultaneously. For example, suppose that Jane intents to kill her husband. If she changes her mind but accidentally hits and kills her husband later, she would not be guilty of murder in legal terms. Finally, a crime does not exist without direct causation. For example, if Jack draws a gun to shoot a police officer, pulls the trigger and misses, but Jayden hits the officer with a club, and kills him, Jack would not be guilty of murder despite his intention to kill.
Criminal intent occurs in numerous versions: specific intent, general intent, criminal negligence, and strict liability. Specific intent exists when a person commits a criminal act on purpose (Croddy & Hayes, 2012, p. 10). For example, a specific criminal intent in theft exists when a person takes another person’s car without the intention to return it. General intent exists when a person commits a certain act despite knowing its criminal consequences. For example, a person practicing target skills with a gun at a public place knows that he could accidentally shoot people. Criminal negligence occurs when a person commits a crime he or she had no intention of committing but failed to take measures to prevent the criminal act from occurring despite being fully aware that it could occur. For example, a person who accidentally knocks down and kills a pedestrian while driving at high speed in a residential area is negligent. Finally, strict liability means that criminal conduct alone is sufficient to prove guilt whether or not intent exists. For example, a person is guilty of running a red light regardless of intent.
Law Enforcement
The police play a crucial role in criminal justice. They bridge the gap between the society and the criminal justice system and thus they are the most visible symbols of criminal justice. The work of the police mainly involves controlling crime and maintaining law and order (Pollock, 2011, p. 94). Police activities aimed at crime control include patrol, crime investigation, responding to dispatched calls, sting operations, arrests, and testifying in court. The overall goal of crime control activities is to catch criminals and prevent crimes. All other activities that the police do besides crime control are referred to as order maintenance. They include controlling traffic, responding to accidents, answering to distress calls and providing emergency services such as search and rescue.
Sometimes the police find it difficult to balance crime control and order maintenance especially during emergencies. The society expects the police to provide order and emergency services during emergencies while keeping up with their daily law enforcement duties (Pollock, 2011, p. 95). For example, a police officer might be forced to break into a nearby store to obtain life saving equipment such as clothing and foodstuff to help citizens during emergencies. Even routine law maintenance activities can overlap or turn into law enforcement. For example, maintaining police presence during protests (order maintenance) can turn into law enforcement when protesters turn into looters. In crime prevention, the police often find themselves torn between disregarding the rights of some citizens to protect those of others. For example, when a homeowner complains of suspicious citizens in a nearby park, the police can either disperse the citizens (disregard their rights) or do nothing, which may result in burglaries.
The Criminal Justice Process
The criminal justice process refers to the activities that take place within the criminal justice system from arrest to corrections. The first step in the criminal justice process is arrest. Before arresting suspects, however, the police must conduct thorough investigations to identify the crimes committed, suspects, victims, and evidence. DNA evidence plays an important role in identifying suspects and making prosecution work easier (Aarli, 2012, p. 3). Upon arrest, the suspect is put in police custody in preparation for first appearance before a magistrate, which often takes place within 48 hours (Pollock, 2011, p. 13). First appearance is a brief mention of the charges before a magistrate. The magistrate determines whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, the magistrate or a jury examines the prosecutor’s evidence and determines whether to proceed to trial. At this stage, the defender is required to answer to the charges by a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defender pleas guilt, sentencing proceeds, otherwise the case goes to trial where the judge or a jury decides the case by either acquitting the defender or obtaining plea agreement. If the defender is convicted, sentencing follows. The sentence varies with criminal record and nature of the crime committed. The judge reserves the discretion to issue sentences although minimum sentence rules apply in some criminal justice systems (Aarli, 2012, p. 4).
The defendant enjoys various constitutional rights including the right to an attorney, the right to speedy trial, and the protection against self-incrimination. The right to an attorney ensures that the defendant obtains the legal counsel necessary to ensure fair trial. State attorneys represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys (Pollock, 2011, p. 199). Alternatively, the defendant could choose to exercise the right to self-defense, but very few defenders choose this option. The right to speedy trial prevents injustices associated with delay while self-incrimination rights protect the defendant from being compelled to witness against self. Many ethical and policy issues affect the criminal justice process including inadequate access to an attorney, ineffective legal representation, undue pressure on judges to convict and the lack of trust in the public defense system.
Corrections is a branch of criminal justice responsible for implementing sentences issued in courts. Sentences fall into three main categories: probation, intermediate sanctions, and incarceration (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011, p. 410). Probation involves placing a criminal offender in the community and conducting routine supervision over the offender to monitor his or her behavior for a predetermined period. The offender must satisfy specific requirements to avoid arrest during probation such as maintaining appropriate conduct, keeping contact with the assigned probation officer, and adhering to counseling, rehabilitation, and home time routines. Offenses likely to result in probation include felony, misdemeanor, drug abuse, and driving under the influence of alcohol. Offenders who face intermediate sanctions are likely to have committed offences punishable by more than just probation but not serious enough to result in prison term. Intermediate sanctions include house arrest, boot camps, electronic surveillance, and community supervision. This type of sentencing was introduced in the 1980s to prevent explosive increase in the cost of incarcerations and probation associated with the rising numbers of offenders (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011, p. 410). Intermediate sanctions are as effective as incarceration and probation in deterring crime but remain popular because of their relatively higher punitive value compared to probation.
Incarceration involves confining a convicted offender in jail or prison for a specified amount of time, usually not less than a year. Most criminal justices issue a fixed incarceration period using determinate sentencing policy. Another sentencing policy related to determinate sentencing is the implementation of mandatory minimum sentences, which refers to the shortest period of incarceration allowed for a specific offence or category of offences (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011, p. 410). Offenders convicted of serious crimes such as violent robbery, illegal drug trafficking and human trafficking are most likely targets for mandatory minimum sentencing, which was introduced to overcome the perception that the lenience of judges in sentencing contributes to the increase in crime rates and disparities in sentencing (Starr & Rehavi, 2013, p. 4). However, the justification for mandatory sentencing remains contested considering the many factors that affect each case. Research indicates that mandatory sentencing does not guarantee justice and deterrence because offenders generally underestimate the risk of being caught (Barkan & Bryjak, 2011, p. 410).
Criminal justice is an essential tool for maintaining farness and harmony in the society. However, societies continue to grapple with high rates of crime despite having well-defined criminal justice systems. This scenario points to either the existence of flaws in the criminal justice design or failures in the implementation of specific policies within the criminal justice system. Ethical issues such as racial and ethnic disparities in incarceration and the existence of unequal or contradicting laws can undermine the credibility of criminal justice systems. Since judges have different backgrounds and high degree of discretion, they are likely to interpret the law differently and thus issue disparate punishments for similar offences. Similarly, lawmakers are likely to favor the interests of the elite when making laws, leading to an unfair criminal justice system. Nevertheless, the rule of law in democracies cannot exist without criminal justice.

Aarli, R. (2012). Genetic justice and transformations of criminal procedure. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology & Crime Prevention, 13(1), 3-21. doi:10.1080/14043858.2012.670457
Barkan, S. E., & Bryjak, G. J. (2011). Fundamentals of criminal justice: A sociological view. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Croddy, M. & Hayes, B. Criminal justice in America. Los Angeles, CA: Constitutional Rights Foundation.
Pollock, J. M. (2011). Crime and justice in America: An introduction to criminal justice. London: Routledge.
Starr, S. B., & Rehavi, M. M. (2013). Mandatory sentencing and racial disparity: Assessing the role of prosecutors and the effects of booker. Yale Law Journal, 123(1), 2