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.

Browse criminal justice research papers or view criminal justice research topics.

Bibliography:

  1. Albonetti, C. A. (1987). Prosecutorial discretion: The effects of uncertainty. Law & Society Review, 21, 291–313.
  2. Albonetti, C. A. (1997). Sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines: Effects of defendant characteristics, guilty pleas, and departures on sentence outcomes for drug offenses, 1991–1992. Law & Society Review, 31, 789–822.
  3. Alfini, J. J. (1981). Mississippi judicial selection: Election, appointment, and bar anointment. In J. A. Cramer (Ed.), Courts and judges (pp. 253–276). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  4. American Bar Association. (1999). Perceptions of the U.S. justice system. Chicago: Author.
  5. Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 US 25 (1972).
  6. Black, D. (1976). The behavior of law. New York: Academic Press.
  7. Blankenship, M. B., Janikowski, W. R., & Sparger, J. B. (1992). Accountability v. independence: Myths of judicial selection. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 6, 69–79.
  8. Blumberg, A. S. (1998). The practice of law as a confidence game: Organization and co-optation of a profession. In G. F. Cole & M. G. Gertz (Eds.), The criminal justice system: Politics and policies (7th ed., pp. 229–244). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  9. Champion, D., Hartley, R. D., & Rabe, G. (2008). Criminal courts: Structure, process, and issues (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Dixon, J. (1995). The organizational context of criminal sentencing. American Journal of Sociology, 100, 1157–1198.
  11. Eisenstein, J., Fleming, R. B., & Nardulli, P. (1988). The contours of justice: Communities and their courts. Boston: Little, Brown.
  12. Eisenstein, J., & Jacob, H. (1977). Felony justice: An organizational analysis of criminal courts. Boston: Little, Brown.
  13. Frankel, M. E. (1972). Criminal sentences: Law without order. New York: Hill & Wang.
  14. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963).
  15. Glick, H. R., & Emmert, C. F. (1987). Selection systems and judicial characteristics: The recruitment of state Supreme Court judges. Judicature, 70, 228–235.
  16. Hanson, R.A. (1992). Indigent defenders:Get the job done and done well.Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
  17. Hartley, R. D. (2005). Bail: Reform. In R. Wright & J. M. Miller (Eds.), Encyclopedia of criminology. New York: Routledge/ Taylor & Francis.
  18. Hughes, J. C. (1995). The federal courts, politics, and the rule of law. New York: HarperCollins. Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 US 458 (1938).
  19. LaFountain, R., Schauffler, R., Strickland, S., Raftery, W., & Bromage, C. (2007). Examining the work of state courts, 2006: A national perspective from the Court Statistics Project. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
  20. Landsman, S. (1984). The adversary system: A description and defense. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute Studies in Legal Policy.
  21. Louisiana Task Force on Women in the Courts. (1992). Final report. Baton Rouge: Author.
  22. Maguire, K., & Pastore, A. L. (Eds.). (2005). Sourcebook of criminal justice statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  23. Mather, L. (1974). The outsider in the courtroom: An alternative role for the defense. In H. Jacob (Ed.). The potential for reform of criminal justice. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  24. Meador, D. J. (1991). American courts. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing.
  25. Nardulli, P. F. (1986). Insider justice: Defense attorneys and the handling of felony cases. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 77, 379–417.
  26. National Center for State Courts. (2006). Survey of judicial salaries. Williamsburg, VA: Author.
  27. Neubauer, D. (1974). Criminal justice in Middle America. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.
  28. Ostrom, B. J., Flango, V. E., & Flango, C. R. (1997). Caseload highlights: Examining the work of the state courts. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
  29. Ostrom, B. J., & Kauder, N. B. (1995). Examining the work of state courts, 1993: A national perspective from the Court Statistics Project. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
  30. Pinello, D. R. (1995). The impact of judicial-selection method on state-supreme-court policy: Innovation, reaction, and atrophy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  31. Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932).
  32. President’s Commission on Law Enforcement. (1967). President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  33. Quinney, R. (1974). Critique of legal order. Boston: Little, Brown. Schall v. Martin, 467 U.S. 253 (1984).
  34. Schauffler, R.Y., LaFountain, R. C., Strickland, S. M., & Raftery, W. E. (2006). Examining the work of state courts, 2005: A national perspective from the Court Statistics Project. Williamsburg, VA: National Center for State Courts.
  35. Schwemle, B. (2006). Legislative, executive, and judicial officials: Process for adjusting pay and current salaries. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.
  36. Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979).
  37. Skolnick, J. (1967). Social control in the adversary system. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 11, 52–70.
  38. Smith, C. E. (1992). From U.S. magistrates to U.S. magistrate judges: Developments affecting the Federal District Courts’ lower tier of judicial officers. Judicature, 75(4), 210–215.
  39. Spohn, C. (2000). Thirty years of sentencing reform: The quest for a racially neutral sentencing process. Criminal Justice, 3, 427–501.
  40. Spohn, C. (2007). How do judges decide: A search for fairness and justice in punishment (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  41. Stack v. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951).
  42. Steffensmeier, D., & Demuth, S. (2006). Does gender modify the effects of race-ethnicity on criminal sanctioning? Sentences for male and female white, black, and Hispanic defendants. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 22, 241–261.
  43. Steffensmeier, D., Ulmer, J., & Kramer, J. (1998). The interaction of race, gender, and age in criminal sentencing: The punishment cost of being young, black, and male. Criminology, 36, 763–797.
  44. Stith, K., & Cabranes, J. A. (1998). Fear of judging: Sentencing guidelines in the federal courts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  45. Sudnow, D. (1965). Normal crimes: Sociological features of the penal code in a public defender office. Social Problems, 12, 255–277.
  46. Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). (2009). Federal judges. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://tracfed.syr.edu/index/layer.php?layer=fedstaf
  47. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987).
  48. Uppal, J. C. (1974). Approaches to the selection of judges. State Government, 47, 46–49.
  49. U.S. Department of Justice. (2006). Prison and jail inmates at midyear, 2006 (Bulletin NCJ 217675, p. 6, Table 11). Washington, DC: Author.
  50. Vago, S. (2006). Law and society (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  51. Volcansek, M. L. (1983). Money or a name? A sectional analysis of judicial elections. Justice System Journal, 8, 46–58.
  52. Wice, P. (1991). Judges and lawyers: The human side of justice. New York: HarperCollins.
  53. Zimring, F. E., Hawkins, G., & Kamin, S. (2001). Punishment and democracy: Three strikes and you’re out in California. New York: Oxford University Press.