The criminal justice system in America has both advantages and disadvantages. The process of the criminal justice system is different from state to state. The federal criminal justice system is also different from the states' criminal justice system, featuring its own procedures, rules, and legal terms to describe the various aspects of the proceedings. Despite this, the criminal justice system is based on a fixed number of stages.
One major advantage of the criminal justice system is the right to a fairly speed trial, which may be waived if the defendant wants more time to prepare for his upcoming trial. If the defendant is facing charges that are punishable by more than six months in prison, he has the right to a jury trial, which is public. If he wishes, the defendant can elect to have a bench trial instead. A bench trial is when a judge takes over the fact-finding purpose of the jury.
Another advantage of the criminal justice system is the right of a convicted defendant to appeal his conviction. When a defendant is found guilty on all or some charges, he has the right to appeal to an appellate court. There are numerous reasons to ask for an appeal in the event that a defendant is found guilty during his trial. Some reasons are the inclusion of evidence that was deemed inadmissible, the lack of satisfactory proof to support the guilty verdict and any errors in the judge's charge to the jury.
Juries can be a disadvantage in the criminal justice system. If jury members want their obligation to end more quickly so that they can return home sooner, they may be tempted to come up with a quick verdict that may not consider everything carefully. In addition, some laws involving jury secrecy are such that potentially innocent people remain convicted because questions into how the jury came to their verdict are not allowed.
Another disadvantage in the criminal justice system is the trend towards sentences that are too long for crimes that are relatively petty. According to the Economist, petty drug dealers are serving longer and harsher sentences when many of them are not violent thugs and would be better served by drug treatment programs instead. It is not at all uncommon to see people doing more time for drug offenses than they would for violent crimes, or even manslaughter. Much of this has to do with extremely strict sentencing laws that have taken power away from judges and placed it in the hands of prosecutors.