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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Criminal justice

 

Criminal justice is the delivery of justice to those who have committed crimes. The criminal justice system is a series of government agencies and institutions whose goals are to identify and catch unlawful individuals to inflict a form of punishment on them. Other goals include the rehabilitation of offenders, preventing other crimes, and moral support for victims. The primary institutions of the criminal justice system are the police, prosecution and defense lawyers, the courts and prisons.

The oldest known codified law is the Code of Hammurabi, dating back to about 1754 BC. The preface directly credits the laws to the code of hammurabi of Ur. In different parts of the world, law could be established by philosophers or religion. In the modern world, laws are typically created and enforced by governments. These codified laws may coexist with or contradict other forms of social control, such as religious proscriptions, professional rules and ethics, or the cultural mores and customs of a society.

Police are primarily concerned with keeping the peace and enforcing criminal law based on their particular mission and jurisdiction. Formed in 1908, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began as an entity which could investigate and enforce specific federal laws as an investigative and "law enforcement agency" in the United States; this, however, has constituted only a small portion of overall policing activity. Policing has included an array of activities in different contexts, but the predominant ones are concerned with order maintenance and the provision of services. During modern times, such endeavors contribute toward fulfilling a shared mission among law enforcement organizations with respect to the traditional policing mission of deterring crime and maintaining societal order.

The prosecutor, or district attorney, is a lawyer who brings charges against a person, persons or corporate entity. It is the prosecutor's duty to explain to the court what crime was committed and to detail what evidence has been found which incriminates the accused. The prosecutor should not be confused with a plaintiff or plaintiff's counsel. Although both serve the function of bringing a complaint before the court, the prosecutor is a servant of the state who makes accusations on behalf of the state in criminal proceedings, while the plaintiff is the complaining party in civil proceedings.

The final determination of guilt or innocence is typically made by a third party, who is supposed to be disinterested. This function may be performed by a judge, a panel of judges, or a jury panel composed of unbiased citizens. This process varies depending on the laws of the specific jurisdiction. In some places the panel (be it judges or a jury) is required to issue a unanimous decision, while in others only a majority vote is required. In America, this process depends on the state, level of court, and even agreements between the prosecuting and defending parties. Some nations do not use juries at all, or rely on theological or military authorities to issue verdicts.

Offenders are then turned over to the correctional authorities, from the court system after the accused has been found guilty. Like all other aspects of criminal justice, the administration of punishment has taken many different forms throughout history. Early on, when civilizations lacked the resources necessary to construct and maintain prisons, exile and execution were the primary forms of punishment. Historically shame punishments and exile have also been used as forms of censure.

Execution or capital punishment is still used around the world. Its use is one of the most heavily debated aspects of the criminal justice system. Some societies are willing to use executions as a form of political control, or for relatively minor misdeeds. Other societies reserve execution for only the most sinister and brutal offenses. Others still have discontinued the practice entirely, believing the use of execution to be excessively cruel.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, crime rates soared and social issues took center stage in the public eye. A number of new laws and studies focused federal resources on researching new approaches to crime control. The Warren Court (the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren), issued a series of rulings which redefined citizen's rights and substantially altered the powers and responsibilities of police and the courts. The Civil Rights Era offered significant legal and ethical challenges to the status quo.

Though a prison, Le Stinche, existed as early as the 14th century in Florence, Italy, incarceration was not widely used until the 19th century. Correctional reform in the United States was first initiated by William Penn, towards the end of the 17th century. For a time, Pennsylvania's criminal code was revised to forbid torture and other forms of cruel punishment, with jails and prisons replacing corporal punishment. These reforms were reverted, upon Penn's death in 1718. Under pressure from a group of Quakers, these reforms were revived in Pennsylvania toward the end of the 18th century, and led to a marked drop in Pennsylvania's crime rate. Patrick Colquhoun, Henry Fielding and others led significant reforms during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

 
 

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