The American society is described as civilized, aiming to maintain peace for economic and social developments. Consequently, Americans abhor social vices that cause harm to an individual and the public at large. The U.S. criminal justice system is designed to enforce laws, ensure public safety, and deliver justice to criminals and victims. The criminal justice system is composed of three core elements: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Each of the three core elements of the criminal justice system has discretionary power to act within its ambit for public safety. Although discretionary is beneficial within the criminal justice system, it may negatively affect those processed through the system.
U.S. Criminal Justice System
The U.S. is considered one of the countries with the most effective criminal justice system. Consequently, many countries utilize criminal precedents as set in the U.S. The country’s criminal justice system is composed of law enforcement, the courts, and corrections (Hinton et al., 2018). Moreover, the system promotes collaboration among the government bureaus, private agencies, and overarching policies to maintain order in the American community (Miller et al., 2020). The U.S. criminal justice system has three major functions which are performed by the three core elements: law enforcement, public safety assurance, and delivery of justice (Hinton et al., 2018). Therefore, the U.S. criminal justice system is one of the most reputable systems.
Core Elements and Functions
Law enforcement is considered the first pillar of the U.S. criminal justice system since it is the part that individuals encounter first when they commit a crime. Additionally, it is the most visible element of the system since people see law enforcement officers every day. The police officers, sheriffs, deputies, government agents, criminal investigators, and detectives from the law enforcement pillar (Vose et al., 2020). The law enforcement officers conduct various functions: investigate crimes, gather evidence, report on criminal activities, give testimonies in courts, and detain offenders (Vose et al., 2020). The law enforcement pillar is significant in the criminal justice system since it maintains order in the community and ensures that all citizens are protected.
The natural justice principles require the suspects to be judged fairly. The court system is the second pillar of a criminal justice system that helps determine whether suspects are innocent or guilty (Page, 2022). The courts, through the judges and magistrates, deliver justice to people based on set rules and regulations. The U.S. courts are at the local and federal levels, each with specified kinds of cases to be heard. The local state courts handle matters such as traffic violations, family disputes, and local criminal issues. Meanwhile, the federal courts handle cases involving multiple regions and waterways (Clopton & Bradt, 2019). The courts are overseen by judges who ensure that adherence to the rule of law when adjudicating cases. Therefore, the court system plays a crucial role in determining criminality among the suspected individuals.
The correction is the third pillar of the criminal justice system that operates according to the decisions made by the court system. The pillar handles the sentencing and punishment of the offenders (Csete, 2019). Upon determining the criminality of an individual, the courts adjudicate that they should be separated from the rest of society. The corrections pillar may put the criminals in prison or on probation. While the corrections officers supervise convicted offenders, the probation officers are responsible for offenders who are monitored by courts, instead of serving jail terms (Ruhland, 2020). Meanwhile, the parole officers ensure that those released from prison early adhere to the rule of law. The collaboration among the law enforcement, courts, and corrections pillars promotes justice for the offenders.
Discretion in the U.S. Criminal Justice System
Discretion involves the latitude granted to the officials to act under a formal set of rules and in a public capacity. Therefore, discretion allows the officers in the criminal justice system to make a decision based on their judgment and consciousness (Cox et al., 2022). The judicial, police, and correctional officers can implement policies based on their personal views (Haggerty & Bucerius, 2021). Discretionary powers ensure that justice is served whether the formal law hinders it or not. However, the powers may cause anarchy in the criminal justice system. While discretion is beneficial to the offenders, it may hinder their access to justice.
Benefits of Discretion
Discretionary power in the criminal justice system is beneficial to the offenders and the victims. The discretion allows the officers to make decisions when a clear solution is not provided in the law. The offenders may benefit from such an action since the officers make a decision that best meets individual and societal needs (Owens & Ba, 2021). Additionally, discretion allows the use of force when necessary to keep crime victims and society safe (Haggerty & Bucerius, 2021). Moreover, the judges have the discretionary to determine cases based on their perceived opinions. Consequently, the offenders may be subjected to a lesser severe punishment than the one under the law. Furthermore, discretionary powers allow the correctional officers to determine punishment and mechanisms that the arrested persons can be subjected to regardless of the overarching laws and regulations. Therefore, the discretionary in the criminal justice system benefits the offenders and suspects while maintaining order and promoting justice.
Hindrances of Discretion
Although the exercise of discretion helps the offenders and the victims, it may hinder access to justice within a criminal justice system. The discretion is exercised solely based on the personal views of the officers in the criminal justice system. Consequently, personal biases may hinder the delivery of fair decisions. For instance, officers with a negative attitude towards Black Americans may take harsher action against them. Meanwhile, the racist officers may be lenient to the White criminals (Iheme, 2021). Consequently, there would be a non-uniform distribution of justice. Moreover, the discretionary powers are subject to exploitation, and the officers may act beyond the obvious limits as provided under the law. Therefore, discretion can encumber access to justice by tampering with the existing laws and regulations.
The criminal justice system plays a significant role in ensuring peace and order in the community. The U.S. system has various components, but the core elements are law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Law enforcement is the first pillar that helps in arresting and investigating the offenders. The courts are the second pillar that helps adjudicate criminal cases at the local and federal levels. Meanwhile, the correctional pillar is involved in punishing the offenders as directed by the courts. Discretion allows the officers in the criminal justice system to act according to their judgments and consciousness. The offenders and victims benefit from discretionary actions which help deliver justice when the law does not provide it. However, discretion is subject to individual bias and leads to unfair actions. Therefore, the U.S. criminal justice system is significant to the citizens.
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