Criminal Justice in America: A Critical View

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22 October 2015

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Criminal justice


            Criminal justice is a system of government institutions, which are tasked with upholding social control, and directed at mitigating crimes as well as sanctioning  the law breakers with criminal penalties as and rehabilitation efforts as well.  Criminal justice covers a number of areas including; law enforcement, juvenile cases, correction and crime prevention. Criminal justice cases at level 200 cover a wide range of areas including policies on sentencing and practice, theories of policing and their effects criminal justice practice. As well as familiarizing with a wide range of police powers especially those involving searching and arrest powers.

            The central role of law in social processes is explored under criminal justice 200, with primary legal regimes of various types being examined and compared from different national contexts as well as across different international context. Legal and non-legal reforms, those of social ordering, are contrasted; investigating human rights law in its practice and structure. Level 200 also focuses on ‘Disability studies’. Theories on how the society interprets disability and consequences in social justice. Factors and determinants that frame disability are factored. These factors include social, political, biological, cultural and economical determinants (Sheldon et al; 455).

            On this paper, I will feature a case that will seek to examine how the judicial system decided to take a shift in the way juveniles were treated at trial in cases of criminal nature. The system saw it necessary to put into consideration the psychological factors, on growth of adolescents’ brains especially, when determining these cases as the aim of the system is more of reforming than punishing. Over the years, most states have believed the Juvenile system in the Judicial system is set up for public protection by providing a mechanism to respond to children who are getting into crime as they mature into adulthood. The children who commit these crimes are believed to be less dangerous and blameworthy hence the need to differentiate them from adults doing the same. States have been responsive to these differences and have in turn established separate court systems to cater for the juveniles. They have also provided separate youth-based systems on service delivery that are different from those of adults.

            Juvenile systems have grown remarkably since their first introduction. The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in the state of Illinois. At the time, the process was rather informal, consisting of conversations between the judge and the youth- with no legal representation for the youth. The system was aimed at creating a different probation system and replacing confinement of these youths in jails alongside the adults. A different approach to their incarceration was adopted which allowed for provision of guidance, education and supervision. All states later embraced the juvenile system including the then district of Columbia. In the year 1967, the ‘Re Gault’ landmark ruling by the Supreme Court determined the requirement of attorneys for youths in the system as well as provision of other constitutional rights like accused adults including confrontation of a witness before them. The Supreme Court later gave more constitutional rights including undergoing trials requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt and against double jeopardy. However, some states give youths the right to trial y a jury through statutes and court rulings although the Supreme Court discouraged this (Bremna 342).

Case ‘Miller v Alabama’

            This case was a petition presented to the Supreme Court by the petitioner, Miller, against the state of Alabama. The case was argued on 20th March 2012 and was later decided on 25th June 2012. In this petition No. 10-9646, the petitioner by the name miller, with his friend beat up Miller’s friend seriously then continued to set his trailer on fire after a long evening of heavy drug abuse and drinking. The neighbor ended up dying. Initially, Miller had been charged by the court like juvenile, but when his case was later on removed and taken to an adult court, the court charged him with arson and murder. The jury found Miller guilty as charged and the trial court sentenced him to life without parole, which was a statutorily mandated punishment. The Alabama court dealing with appeals re-affirmed the ruling, arguing that Miller’s sentence was not even as harsh in comparison to the crime he had committed and the mandatory nature of it was permissible according to the eighth amendment, which states that one should not be imprisoned for LWP for juvenile offenders that have committed homicide. The amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishments hence guaranteeing the defendant the right of refrain from being subjected to rather harsh sanctions. Punishment for a crime should be proportionate to both the crime and the offender. The amendment recognizes the lack of mental maturity n these youths, something that could lead to impulsiveness and recklessness as well as poor decision making (Adam 10).

            This petitioned was argued and judgment given jointly with a case of the same nature, petition No. 10-9647 of ‘Jackson v Hobbs’ in which Jackson was charged with murder and thereafter sentenced to a life imprisonment with no parole. Jackson, a 14year old had taken part in a robbery where, unknown to him, one of his friends had carried a short gun with which he used to murder the clerk in the store. Jackson was charged by Arkansas as an adult with the crime of capital felony of murder alongside robbery. The jury found him guilty of both charges something that led to the sentence. The court likened life without parole to a death sentence (Adam 10).

            On June 25 2012, the court gave a 5-4 ruling on the case, judging that a life imprisonment without parole was not constitutional if the accused is over the age of eighteen. The court was persistent on Graham’s foundational principle that states that the child status must be taken into account when passing such harsh judgments. Regardless of the crime committed, such severe penalties on juveniles cannot go on as if they were not children. The court also directed that sentences of life imprisonment without granting parole as such should be rare. The vulnerability of the children was taken into account as well as their high capability to change in the future and become better persons. The ruling would certainly have an after effect, especially on those whose sentencing did not take into account age and other mitigating factors (Adam 10).

            This decision would see at least half of the states in America change their statutes on handling juvenile cases and sentences to life with no parole: including Alabama’s statute ‘code 13A’. Efforts to end harsh judgments and reduce solitary in confinement for juveniles were evident and efforts to close juvenile detention facilities as states started re-thinking of other ways on how to deal with juvenile offenders. Campaigns for youth reforms have been started with correctional facilities aimed at creating a view on young felons as victims of circumstances rather than felons who are irredeemable (Okonkwo 45).


Top of Form

Shelden, Randall G, and William B. Brown. Criminal Justice in America: A Critical View. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003. Print.

Bottom of Form

Daniel Okonkwo The New York Times- Applying The Miller v Alabama Ruling Retroactively Must Be Done, 2013

Adam Liptak, Ethan Bronnerthe New York Times- Justice Bar Mandatory Life Terms For Juveniles, 2012

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