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When the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation in 1789, the United States of America formed a government that specifically divided its powers between three separate branches. This was done in order to make certain that no one branch of government could accumulate too much power. These three are called the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, and the Constitution defines the powers each branch of government is allowed to exercise. While the Executive and Legislative branches of government deal with the running of the government, the Judicial branch is limited to dealing with legal matters. While it may seem that the Judicial branch is someone less important, it is the judiciary that decides whether the actions taken by the other two branches of government are legitimate.
Alexander Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers that a separation of powers was necessary in order to prevent one particular group "adverse to the rights of the other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community'- from gaining control over the entire government." (Kaiser, 2003) In order to accomplish this goal, the Constitution had restrictions on serving in more than one branch of government at the same time, making certain a clear division was in place between the branches. It also guaranteed that each branch of government had independent, electoral bases, and was endowed with institutional support mechanisms so that no branch of government became completely dependent on another. It was particularly important to the founding fathers that the judiciary had a constitutional base of independence, and thereby could operate with complete freedom. In order to spread power around, the U.S. Constitution was designed to created a government that split power among three distinct, separate, and independent branches of government.
These are the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches and each has unique capacities and responsibilities. In short, the Executive branch of government is the President of the United States. But the Executive branch consists of not only the President, but also the Vice-President, the cabinet, and a number of government agencies. "Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress." ("The Executive Branch") The responsibilities of the President are to see that the laws of the nation are enforced, in effect, he is the top law enforcement official in America. The president is also the commander in chief of all United States Armed Forces.
The laws that the executive branch is empowered to enforce come from the second branch of government called the legislature. This branch consists of the United States Congress, which itself is divided into two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives has 435 members which serve for two-year terms, and "the number of representatives per state is proportionate to population." (U.S. House) The number of Senators in limited to two per state, and serve for six-year terms. (U.S. Senate) There is a long and involved process by which a piece of legislation becomes law, and it involves the passage in both houses of Congress before it can be sent to the President for his ratification or veto. In other words, the House of Representatives and the Senate must first pass a bill, and then the President can either sign it into law, or veto it. If the president vetoes the bill, the Congress can overturn his veto with a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress.
The third branch of government is the Judiciary, and was created in Article III of the U.S. Constitution. ("Federal Courts") Congress has had a great deal of discretion when it came to the creation of the judiciary. The highest court in America is the Supreme Court of the United States, which currently has nine members who have no fixed period of service, but serve for life. But the Judiciary also contains district courts, courts of appeal, the prisons and corrections systems, as well as the institutions and personnel to maintain them. In effect, the Judiciary contains all the elements of the American Criminal Justice System. That system has a number of other components including, law enforcement, prosecution and defense attorneys, courts, and corrections. But it also includes such things as probation and parole agencies, bail bondsmen, drivers and vehicle licensing bureaus, and agencies dealing with natural resources and taxation.
Most citizens' only experience with the judiciary comes in the form of obtaining licenses and paying taxes, but if one must enter the court system, then a specific process must followed. For the most part the criminal justice system involves a process that begins when a crime is witnessed or reported. The specifics of the process may differ according to jurisdictions, the age of the accused, the seriousness of the crime, or other factors, but this system begins with a crime being committed.
Once a crime is reported, law enforcement officers, the police, will receive the crime report from victims or witnesses, investigate the crime, and if they find enough evidence of a crime, arrest a suspect or issue a citation. Law enforcement is the primary tool of investigation within the criminal justice system, along with their traditional role of keepers of the peace. In addition to investigating, police officers will usually also act as witnesses. For instance, besides the victims and witnesses, "the first law enforcement officers on the scene have personal knowledge of the events leading to the criminal case and will likely be called to testify about what they saw and heard." (NHTSA) When a crime is committed, law enforcement is the usual point of contact between the ordinary citizen and the criminal justice system, but because of their role as investigators, they are also usually called to be witnesses in the next phase of the criminal justice system, the courts.
This takes the accused to the criminal court system where the role of the system is to provide a forum for presenting criminal complaints in order to make a decision on the matter and to ensure that the laws regarding that matter are adhered to. The first step is to present the evidence to a prosecutor who will decide whether or not to charge the accused or release them. If the prosecutor files charges, the accused will appear in court and hear the charges against them, they will have the right to defend themselves against those charges in a trial in front of a jury of their peers. The prosecutor is assigned to present the evidence of guilt, while the defense attorney is responsible to defend their client against those charges. Each defendant is allowed to have a the best defense available, and if the accused cannot afford an attorney, the system will provide a public defender to take the case. ("Court Procedures") It is vitally important that both the government and accused have proper legal representation for the proceedings to be legitimate. After hearing the prosecution and the defense, the jury will decide whether or not the evidence is sufficient to render a verdict of guilty. If the accused chooses, they may bypass the jury and have their case heard by a single judge, otherwise the judge is responsible that an orderly process, in accordance with the law, takes place in the court. ("Court Procedures") If the accused is found guilty of the crime, they are next sentenced according to what the law prescribes for such a crime.
When a person is convicted of a crime, they enter the United States correctional system. Whether it is a local or national system will be the determining factor in the specific procedures the convicted criminal will endure, but the overall goals of the various correctional systems are the same. The mission of the correctional agencies is to confine, manage, and provide rehabilitative programs for convicts in a safe, secure and humane environment. (McGee, 1971) The system is staffed by trained professionals who are committed to the safety of the public as well as the successful re-integration of the convicted criminals into society. In sum, the corrections system is responsible to keep criminals separated from society and teach them the appropriate behavior for members of that society. The correctional system not only includes prisons and guards, but also physical and mental health care providers, councilors, educational services, as well as an entire structure of parole boards and officers designed to both prepare inmates for the outside world and monitor them when they are released. (McGee, 1971)
The United States has created a system of government that has divided it's power and authority among three branches of government: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. While the Executive and Legislative branches make and enforce the laws, the Judicial branch deals with those who break those laws. Within the Judicial branch of government is the criminal justice system which not only is charged with law enforcement, but also investigation of crimes and apprehension of suspects. When a crime is committed the police must…[continue]
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