The criminal justice system, the cutting edge of a society, reflects its changing values. Issues ranging from women's rights to international treaties to media and the law all have criminal justice aspects that a thesis writer can explore. The writer can look at fairness of the system, how the system works in practice, statistical analyses of violators and race or gender, and differences between states and municipalities in enforcing crimes and punishing offenders.
War Crimes and International Law
Examine the use of torture during international conflicts, supposedly a violation of international law. How are war crimes investigated and prosecuted by international bodies, and how does politics enter into the process? Do governments implement international treaties with regard to criminal prosecution of their own alleged torturers, and if not, how can they be induced to do so?
Law enforcement and the media
Discuss the media's role in law. Do law enforcement officials selectively release information to the media about criminal cases to better their image, and does the media uncritically pass on that information, creating bias against defendants? If so, how can the media get better access to information about ongoing criminal investigations, and how can the media be required to maintain balance in its reporting?
Death Qualification and Convictions
Look at the issue of potential jurors who oppose the death penalty and are routinely excluded from criminal juries in capital cases during the selection process. Are the remaining jurors more pro-law enforcement and likely to convict, and if so, how can the defendant's right to a fair trial be guaranteed in a death penalty case?
Police Stops and Race
Examine profiling, always a current theme. Many states now require police departments to report the race of people stopped for traffic violations, minor infractions and identification checks. Using those statistics and demographic data, is there evidence that minorities are disproportionately singled out by police?
Criminal Justice and Violent Female Violators
Look at the increasing role of women in violent crimes. Do statistics support this reported trend, and if so, how does the criminal justice system deal with an influx of violent female offenders? Are they treated the same, better, or worse than men in trials, sentencing, prison facilities and rehabilitation?
Prosecutors and Public Defenders
Compare the resources of prosecutors in the district attorney's office with the resources of defense attorneys in the public defender's office in various jurisdictions. Compare caseloads, staffing, investigative help, budgets, trial experience and other factors. Do public defenders--and therefore, their defendants--have equal opportunity to make their cases? If not, how can the system be better balanced?
- The author, who spent 35 years writing about crime and courts
Richard Cole has worked as a journalist for 35 years. He has written for or appeared in media ranging from local weeklies to the Internet and national television, including 18 years with The Associated Press. He attended Lafayette College and the University of California at Berkeley.