There are several documents and artifacts – represented by particular cases and practices – that are significant for the US Criminal justice system. The first one is related to Thomas Jennings, a Chicago resident who was found guilty of killing a man in his home in People v. Jennings in 1910 (Uenuma). At his trial, Jennings was found guilty because of fingerprints he left there on a newly painted fence. This is the first documented sentence in the American legal system that was founded on fingerprint proof.
The manufacture, sale, import, and use of alcohol in the US were all outlawed by the 18th Amendment in 1920 (Lisa). Prohibition caused a more severe and more organized species of criminals and ramped up government enforcement, much like the war on drugs that would come after.
President Johnson proclaimed a “war on crime” in the spring of 1965 and submitted legislation to Congress that would fundamentally alter the structure of the US legal system (Lisa). The Law Enforcement Assistance Act created a national involvement for the policemen, jails, and courts in law enforcement agencies. It also opened a channel via which military supplies are even today transferred from the defense industry to regional police enforcement.
From many films and TV series, many individuals are aware that when a suspect is arrested, police officers are required to read them their so-called Miranda rights. The convictions of Ernesto Miranda for rape and kidnap were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1966 (Lisa). The court determined that the police violated Miranda’s rights by probing him till he surrendered without alerting him of his rights to silence and the presence of a lawyer during questioning.
Police officers were given a potent new tool in the fight against organized crime in 1970 when the National Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) legislation was passed (Lisa). RICO provided law enforcement with the ability to charge individuals merely for taking part in an ongoing illegal business. Such a state of affairs made it easier to imprison crime bosses who hardly ever committed any crimes themselves.
In Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court decided in 1972 that the death sentence was a form of punishment (Lisa). However, it was a convoluted and limited decision that only applied in a few limited circumstances. Despite temporarily nullifying 40 death penalty laws, the decision was hardly ground-breaking and would soon be reversed.
The national legislation of parole was abolished, and statutory minimum sentencing standards were set by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (Lisa). The rapid increase in America’s jail population that started in the 1970s was further exacerbated by harsher punishments that did not consider mitigating circumstances.
In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court declared in 2002 that the death penalty was unconstitutional because it represented severe punishments for those who have intellectual limitations (Lisa). However, it was up to the governments to decide who was truly intellectually impaired.
The Supreme Court held in Riley v. California that arbitrary searches of electronic devices like cell phones while people are being arrested, are unlawful (Lisa). Scrolling through an accused’s mobile was not the same as checking his bags or car because modern gadgets now carry private and intimate data, such as the kind explicitly addressed in the Fourth Amendment.
Currently, several communities are exploring alternatives to the bail system – the final artifact from the list – which locks the less fortunate in jail. At the same time, they await trial while allowing the wealthier to remain free until their court dates. Because they cannot pay bail, some 500,000 individuals are currently detained while they await trial – the majority of them for minor offenses (Lisa). They are all believed to be innocent, which results in pressure caused by the public mind on the US Criminal justice system.
Lisa, Andrew. “History of the US Justice System.” Stacker, 2020.
Uenuma, Francine. “The First Criminal Trial That Used Fingerprints as Evidence.” Smithonian Magazine, 2018.