Criminal Courts

VIII. Conclusion

Courtroom outcomes and the decision-making processes of courtroom actors will continue to be a very complex issue. At the outset, the court structure in the United States is somewhat confusing, as there is little uniformity among jurisdictions. The criminal court system is a very important institution in society; it is the structure that breathes life into the law and the avenue through which social control is maintained. Without the courts and criminal procedures, the law could not function. It is also a means for social change in society.

The U.S. court system is best characterized as a dual-court system. Each state and the federal government has its own court system and organization to deal with cases that come under its authority. These systems, however, are not perfect. There are criticisms at all stages and of all members of the courtroom workgroup. Criticisms have also been levied at the idea that the system is adversarial; arguments are that because a majority of cases are plea-bargained, the system is better characterized by cooperation and negotiation. It has been said that the prosecution and defense are co-opted and are more concerned with efficiently processing cases than ensuring that justice has been done. Public defenders are further criticized for not zealously defending their clients. Indeed, their caseloads are high and their resources low, but most research shows that they are effective and do achieve outcomes for their defendants that are similar to, or, in some cases, better than those who privately retain attorneys.

Although the structure and function of the American criminal court system can be somewhat confusing, scholars continue to study and research the courts and their decision-making practices. Decisions and processes are continually being examined and assessed to ensure that procedural rules are adhered to and due process rights are being fulfilled. Court structures across the country continue to experience increases in their caseloads. Judges in some jurisdictions are appointed and in others, elected. The adversary process that characterizes courts may be a myth because of characterizations of courtrooms and their actors (the courtroom workgroup) as negotiators and not adversaries. Most jurisdictions rely on plea bargaining in order to efficiently and effectively manage their caseloads. The courts have in the past been avenues for change and have always been important mechanisms for the maintenance of order in society. The courts will continue to be criticized, but it may be because they will continue to hold an important place in the democratic ideals of United States society.

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