Pros & Cons of the Criminal Justice System

By Lane Cummings - Updated January 29, 2018
Prisoner in handcuffs in courtroom

A criminal justice system is more than just the laws we must abide by or the courts that enforce those laws. It includes the defined set of procedures, rules, requirements and limits our courts and other institutions use to enforce the criminal law. Other institutions that play a role in the criminal justice system include the police, custodial institutions, correctional facilities, and trial and appellate courts. Pros and cons abound in the criminal justice system, and two people may view the same aspect differently, depending on what side they're on.

Presumption of Innocence

Unlike countries like China, in America if you are accused of a crime you are innocent until proven guilty. This is an important benefit of the criminal justice system as it places the burden of proof where it should be, on the accusers. While some may argue that if you're facing a criminal trial due to an accusation of a crime, someone present, be it the victims, prosecuting attorney or public, must think that you're guilty, the presumption of innocence is a pivotal benefit of the criminal justice system. This presumption is designed to allow judges and juries to evaluate whether the prosecution has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the crime(s).

Self Incrimination

Another benefit of the criminal justice system is the fifth amendment which protects the accused from saying anything or being forced to answer questions which essentially might get him into deeper trouble. The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution says that the government cannot require someone to provide potentially incriminating testimony. The amendment further states that any information gathered from the accused which violate this right is not allowed to be admitted during the criminal court proceedings. The fifth amendment essentially protects the accused from having to take witness against himself. This amendment keeps the burden upon the prosecutor to find witnesses who will do exactly that.

Right to Attorney

The fact that everyone accused of a crime has a right to an attorney is a definite pro of the criminal justice system. If the accused cannot afford an attorney the court will appoint one to him, often referred to as a public defender. However, this pro can sometimes turn into a con when you consider the fact that wealthier people accused of crimes can usually afford more expensive attorneys who have more experience, graduated from more prestigious law schools and who have been mentored by elite legal professionals. Some say the fact that the court doesn't appoint both the defendant and the plaintiff a public defender gives the rich a sometimes unfair advantage.

Plea Bargaining

The prosecution in a criminal case may offer a plea bargain, which is a deal offering a lesser sentence or some concessions in exchange for a defendant's guilty plea. This system prevents every single trial from going to court and thus overcrowding the court system to the point where it simply can't function. Plea-bargaining is riddled with pros and cons. On the one hand, the prosecutor gets a guaranteed conviction. On the other hand the accused gets a lighter sentence or charge. And of course, the court system is relieved from possible clogging.

About the Author

Lane Cummings is originally from New York City. She attended the High School of Performing Arts in dance before receiving her Bachelor of Arts in literature and her Master of Arts in Russian literature at the University of Chicago. She has lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she lectured and studied Russian. She began writing professionally in 2004 for the "St. Petersburg Times."

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