The system of criminal justice is made up of a trio of different institutions. Collectively, they process a case, starting with its inception, moving through a trial phase, and concluding with punishment. Cases start when law enforcement officers investigate specific crimes, collecting evidence that can be used in the identification and prosecution of an alleged perpetrator. A case continues in the court system, where the evidence is weighed to ascertain whether or not a defendant is guilty to a point beyond reasonable doubt. If this is so, then the corrections system uses various means that they have, chiefly probation or incarceration, to both correct and punish the offender’s behavior.
In every stage of this overall process, there are constitutional protections in place to make sure that individual rights of people are respected, accused and convicted alike. These protections are a delicate balance between the needs of criminal justice in investigating and prosecuting perpetrators and the basic rights of accused individuals who get presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Even though many rights are constitutionally derived to protect accused individuals from law enforcement overreach and abuse, perhaps the most significant are Miranda advisements and Fourth Amendment prohibitions from any unreasonable search and seizure.
Anyone familiar with police dramas knows Miranda rights well. Even though many know these rights, it’s still mandatory for officers to remind arrestees of their rights prior to questioning.
Another big restriction placed on investigations in cases is a prohibition on any unreasonable search or seizure. This keeps officers from searching a home or a suspect or the suspect himself unless they have a warrant.
Defendants have the right to representation by an attorney that they choose. They can also have court-appointed counsel if they’re not able to afford one on their own. A jury has to be a fair representation of the local community, so most cases won’t have a jury made up of all the same race or gender.
If a defendant gets convicted with charges that merit jail time, then they’re sent for punishment in the corrections system. This might involve probation or incarceration, but it can include both.
Probation might be supervised, but it can also be unsupervised. Unsupervised probation stipulates that an individual faces punishment or jail time should they get into legal trouble again. Supervised probation means that an offender must routinely check in with a probation officer in order to verify compliance with their probation terms.
Incarceration is used often as a consequence to a criminal trial, particularly in severe instances. Convicts are housed in prisons or jails. Jails are common at county levels for less serious actions. Their terms don’t usually go past a year. Alternatively, prison terms are typically longer and are more likely to involve serious felonies.