Criminal Justice System. Controls in Criminal Law


Criminal justice is a broad term that encompasses different aspects of justice in crime. It is society’s instrument in maintaining social control. Siegel (2010) states that ‘some behaviors are so dangerous that they must be controlled or strictly prohibited in the society’ (p. 8). To moderate societal behavior, the criminal justice system has been put in place in many modern societies. The systems main objective is to deter, outlawed conduct by arresting, judging and disciplining lawbreakers. To facilitate this, the system is divided into three main arms: law enforcement, the judicial courts, and the institutions of behavior corrections. Siegel (2010) contends that this institution ‘deals with the more legal social issues while other system of behavior control such as school and parental discipline deals with the more moral aspects.’ (pp. 7-8). In most countries, it is only the criminal justice system that has the legal mandate to control crime and punish lawbreakers through the stipulated law. Personnel in this system are equipped by the law and through proper training on how to handle crime in their arrears of jurisdiction. Each arm has its specific role provided for by the constitution. The constitution also provides for how the three arms are interrelated, functioning together harmoniously in effort to maintain social control in the society. The criminal justice system process starts with the arrest of the offender, through to prosecution and finally to penalization by fines, probation, community service or jail terms if the crime warranted it (Siegel, 2010, p. 12). This essay aims at discussing these functions and the place of discretionary powers by officers in the system.

Law enforcement

This is the arm in the criminal justice system made up of police officers, recognized by the law and given the mandate to maintain law and order in the society (Siegel, 2010, p. 8). Other than collecting evidence in a scene of crime, Israel, LaFeve, and Kamisar (1974) state that law enforcement personnel deals with all actions prior to a formal prosecution, which include arrest, search , seizure, interrogation and investigation. They also exercise of the power to decide whether to prosecute and offender or not (p. 92). Siegel (2010) adds that the police also perform other duties such as traffic control, respond to domestic disputes, testifying in courts, quelling riots and demonstrations among other duties (p. 9). With the advent of technology and evolution of societies, policing has become s more solution oriented (Reiss, 1992, p. 52). Therefore, police officers have the power to consider all circumstances in a crime scene to determine if any legal action is to be taken. This discretionary authority includes the power to determine the extent of any action taken in a scene of crime according the laid down law. In modern democratic societies, “strict observation of the laid down law would create an intolerable living and therefore it is inevitable and desirable to expand the use of discretionary powers in crime control by the law enforcement officers” (Breitell, 1960, p. 427). Being the first officers who handle crime, the police have to be diligent in their work.

The judicial courts

Upon investigation, law enforcement officer determine whether to arrest or not. If arrested, a lawbreaker is presented to a court of law for prosecution. In the court system there are several officers that a law breaker encounters.

The defense lawyer

Every defendant has a right to a legal representation in a court of law. Freedman (1908) says that the primary role of the defense lawyer is to reveal the truth about the defendant and not to lead the defendant to deceive the court by committing perjury or by giving the defendant legal information that may lead to it. (p. 1562). Defense lawyers are at discretion in pleading for a plea of bargain and ensuring that a defendant is fairly sentenced in a court of law.

The prosecutor

Urviller (1951) says that public prosecutors are at discretion to maintain a proper code of conduct in criminal law. They have to discern with a lot of integrity and honesty on the cases they are prosecuting. Prosecutors have to be very strict in legal assessment of the criminal case. They cannot be selective in favoring which cases to prosecute (p. 1147)

The judge

Tate (1975) argues that judges must make to a ruling that is as fair as possible to all interested parties represented in the case. Sometimes a judge may modify judicial rules available in order to reach a fair decision. These modifications are also to be applied in similar cases that may arise in future (p. 250). Judges also rules on appropriate bail and/or conditions of release. They also set dates for court hearings and oversee all court proceedings (Peckham, 1965)

The correctional facility personnel

Correctional administrators have been given absolute discretion in the management of their respective penal systems. This has created a smaller legal system that is immune to outside control (Bruce, 1970, p. 227). Carlson and Garrett (2008) states that these smaller legal system deals with disciplinary issues in jails such as sneaking in contraband goods, theft, illegal sexual relationship amongst inmates, assault, among others. They also investigate these issues and mete out the necessary punishment to offending inmates. (p.262). prison officers isolate the different types of inmates gender, health and age wise (p. 73). Jail chief executives lead the wardens to stay in daily contact of all activities in the jails they are responsible of (p. 204)

The civilian oversight committee

Bruce (2002) reports that, despite the fact that all the arms of the criminally justice system have authority to act on discretion, they are subject to be accountable to the public for respecting basic human rights and not to abuse power. This has facilitated the formation on civilian oversight agencies such as National Human Rights Commissions, to monitor these accesses (p. 6). These civilian authorities involves themselves in investigating public complains by accessing police files and personal records. In some countries the civilian agencies only make recommendation on how such complains should be handled while in others civilians may be empowered to adjudicate the complaints. Civilians audit, investing monitor and report on the competencies and effectiveness of the police. Citizen review mechanisms differ from country to country in conducting their independent investigation, subpoena witnesses, hold public hearings, or to provide legal counsel to complainants. (p. 4). These oversight committees also ensure that criminal justice system takes drastic steps in mitigating any repetition of such wrongdoing. The work of these civilian oversight committees is beneficial to the criminal justice system as they help in improving its public image, increase public understanding of its work, improve quality of services of the criminal justice system and promote the achievement of community policing (Stone, 2002)


To conclude, the primary function of the criminal justice system is deterrent of crime. Its three arms are co dependent: one cant work without the other. The judicial courts would not be able to execute their duties if the law enforcement does not present credible cases for prosecution. The correctional facilities are depended upon by the other two arms to make the necessary behavioral adjustments such that upon release inmates will respect the law. The civilian oversight committee is more of a watch dog body that monitors the respect of dignity and rights of convicted persons. Collectively the three arms depend on this watchdog body to give an objective evaluation on its conduct and operations, which will include valuable feedback from the public. This will enable it to improve service delivery. This system can only be useful to the society if it respects its discretionary mandate only to protect human rights. This puts in focus the correctional facility officers who have unrestricted dissertation in the discharge of their duties (Carlson & Garrett, 2008, p. 262). In their legal duty to correct and restrict behavior of inmates, they must be human and treat the inmates with due respect. The discretion of the judges is to make fair decisions and to interpret the law according to the specific case they are dealing with. In this respect, they must be seen to remain impartial. When they change judicial process law and procedures, the changes must be applicable in all similar case in future. This will ensure that the law changes with the changing dynamics of the legal systems and societal expectations. Finally, law enforcement officers are the primary justice officers who come into contact wit the crime scene. Their role is to make a thorough preliminary analysis of all circumstances leading to the crime. This is because the report they give to the other arms will influence the outcome of the case.

Reference List

Breitel D (1960). Controls in criminal law. University of Chicago law review, 27(3).

Bruce, D. (2002). A proposed role for civilian oversight committees in promoting accountability in municipal police departments; Research report written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. Web.

Carlson, M., &, Garrett, J. (2008). Prison and jail administration: Practice and theory. Ontario: Jones and Barret Publishers

Freedman, H. (1908). Professional responsibility of the criminal defense lawyer: the here hardest questions. George Washington University review, 1469.

Israel, L. W., & Kamisar, Y, (1974). Modern criminal procedure. Minnesota: West Publishing co.

Reiss, J., (1992). Police organization in the twentieth century. University of Chicago press release, 51.

Robert , P. (1965). The federal judge as a case manager: The new role in guiding a case from filing to disposition, 770. Web.

Siegel, L. (2010). Introducing criminal justice. California: MacMillan.

Tate, A. (1975). The justice function of the judge, 250. Web.

Urviller, H. (1951). The virtuous prosecutor in quest for an ethical standard; guidance from the ABA university of Yale. Web.

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LawBirdie. "Criminal Justice System. Controls in Criminal Law." March 27, 2023.