Chapter 8

Chapter 8
The Administration of Justice
The American Court Structure
The U.S. has a dual court system.
dual court
One system of state and local courts and another
system of federal courts.
The American Court Structure
The court’s jurisdiction is set by law and
limited by territory and type of case.
The authority of a court to hear and decide cases.
The Federal Courts
The authority for the federal court system is in
the Constitution. The system includes:
• The Supreme Court
• The federal courts of appeals
• The federal district courts
United States District Courts
• Trials in federal district court are usually
heard by a judge.
• General trial courts
• Federal criminal cases involve:
Bank robbery
Mail fraud
Civil rights abuses
Circuit Courts of Appeals
A party that loses a case in district court may
appeal to a federal circuit court of appeals, or
in some cases, directly to the U.S. Supreme
Circuit Courts of Appeals
• Circuit courts of appeals review a case for
errors of law, not of fact.
• Normally, three judges sit as a panel to hear
cases. Jury trials are not allowed.
• Texas is in the 5th Circuit along with
Louisiana and Mississippi
The United States Supreme Court
• Court of last resort in all questions of
federal law and U.S. Constitution.
• The court may hear cases:
 Appealed from federal courts of appeal.
 Appealed directly from federal district
 Appealed from the high court of a state,
if claims under federal law or the
Constitution are involved.
The United States Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court is composed of:
• A chief justice
• Eight associate justices
Each member of the court is appointed for life
by the president and affirmed by the Senate.
The United States Supreme Court
• In order for a case to be heard by the
Supreme Court, at least four justices must
vote to hear the case.
The United States Supreme Court
When the court decides a case, it can:
• Affirm the decision of the lower court and “let it
• Modify the decision of the lower court, without
totally reversing it.
The United States Supreme Court
• Reverse the decision of the lower court, requiring
no further court action.
• Reverse the decision of the lower court and
remand the case to the court of original
jurisdiction, for either retrial or resentencing.
The State Courts
The state courts have general power to decide
nearly every type of case.
There are generally four levels of state courts:
• Trial courts of limited jurisdiction
• Trial courts of general jurisdiction
• Intermediate appellate courts
• State courts of last resort
Key Actors in the Court Process
The three key actors in the court process are:
• The prosecutor
• The defense attorney
• The judge
The Prosecutor
The prosecutor is a powerful actor in the
administration of justice. Prosecutors have the
authority to:
• Decide whether to charge or not charge a
person with a crime
• Decide whether to prosecute or not
prosecute a case
• Determine what the charge will be
The Decision to Plea-Bargain
Probably the most strategic source of power
available to prosecutors is their authority to
decide which cases to plea bargain.
Justice in America is dispensed mostly
through plea bargaining.
The Defense Attorney
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution
guarantees the right to the “effective
assistance” of counsel. Defendants have a
right to counsel during many stages in the
criminal justice process
The Defense Attorney
A defendant may waive the right to counsel
and appear on his or her own behalf.
In the American system of justice, the role of
defense counsel is to provide the best possible
legal counsel and advocacy within the legal
and ethical limits of the profession.
The Court-Appointed Lawyer
In some circumstances, defendants who
cannot afford a lawyer are provided with a
court-appointed, private attorney.
• If they are paid at all, court-appointed
private attorneys are paid a nominal sum.
• Many are not knowledgeable in criminal
The Public Defender
In many large jurisdictions, people who
cannot afford an attorney are provided with
public defenders.
The Public Defender
• Public defenders are paid a fixed salary by
the jurisdiction.
• Although public defenders may have a
conflict of interest because of their close
working relationship with prosecutors and
judges, most defendants prefer them
because they specialize in criminal law.
The Contract Lawyer
A relatively new and increasingly popular way
to provide for indigent defense is the contract
• Private attorneys, law firms, and bar
associations bid for the right to represent a
jurisdiction’s indigent defendants, and are
paid a fixed dollar amount.
The Judge
Judges have a variety of responsibilities in the
criminal justice process:
Determining probable cause
Signing warrants
Informing suspects of their rights
Setting and revoking bail
The Judge
• Arraigning defendants
• Accepting guilty pleas
• In some jurisdictions, managing their own
courtrooms and staff
• Allowing the jury a fair chance to reach a
verdict on the evidence presented
Selection of Judges
The two most common selection methods are:
• Election
• Merit selection
Selection of Judges
In the merit selection process, also known as the
“Missouri Plan,”
• The governor appoints judges from a list of qualified
lawyers compiled by a nonpartisan nominating
• After serving a short term, the judge faces an
uncontested election in which citizens vote whether to
keep the judge or not.
• If voters elect to keep the judge, they serve a full term.
Pretrial Stages
The screening process of pretrial stages
eliminates from the judicial process about half
of all the persons arrested.
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
A bail bond or bail allows suspects or
defendants to remain free while awaiting the
next stage in the adjudication process.
It is not a fine, but an incentive to appear.
bail bond or bail
Usually a monetary guarantee deposited with the
court that is supposed to ensure that the suspect or
defendant will appear at a later stage in the criminal
justice process.
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
The amount of bail generally depends on:
• The likelihood that the suspect or defendant
will appear in court as required
• The seriousness of the crime
• The suspect’s prior criminal record
• Jail conditions and overcrowding
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
If a judge believes that a suspect or defendant
would pose a threat to the community, the
judge can refuse to set bail. This is called
preventive detention.
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
For people who cannot afford to post bail,
professional bonds people are available to
post it for them for a nonrefundable fee,
typically 10% of the required amount.
Suspects who post their own bail get it all back
after they appear.
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
When the crime is minor and suspects or
defendants have ties to the community, they
are generally released on their own
Bail and Other Methods of
Pretrial Release
Other nonfinancial releases are:
• Conditional release
• Unsecured bond
conditional release
A form of release that requires that a
suspect/defendant maintain contact with a pretrial
release program or undergo regular drug monitoring
or treatment.
unsecured bond
An arrangement in which bail is set but no money is
paid to the court.
If the decision is made to prosecute a
defendant, in states that do not use grand
juries, the prosecutor drafts a document called
an information. The information outlines:
• The charge or charges
• The law or laws violated
• The evidence to support the charge or charges
Grand Jury
The alternative to filing an information is a
grand jury.
grand jury
Generally a group of 12 to 23 citizens who meet in
closed sessions to investigate charges coming from
preliminary hearings or to engage in other
responsibilities. A primary purpose of the grand jury
is to determine whether there is probable cause to
believe that the accused committed the crime or
Grand Jury
Before appearing before a grand jury, the
prosecutor drafts an indictment.
A document that outlines the charge or charges
against a defendant.
Grand Jury
Because the grand jury has to determine only
probable cause:
• Only the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses are
• In most jurisdictions, the defendant does not have
a right to be present
• Prosecutors are allowed to present hearsay or
illegally obtained evidence
Grand Jury
In addition, prosecutors have the authority to
subpoena witnesses.
Grand Jury
In practice, the grand jury system is criticized
for merely providing a rubber stamp for
whatever the prosecutor wants to do.
Suspects waive the right to a grand jury
hearing in about 80% of cases.
Plea Bargaining
Justice in the U.S. is dispensed mostly
through plea bargaining. There are three basic
types of plea bargains:
• The defendant may be allowed to plead guilty to a
lesser offense.
• A defendant who pleads guilty may receive a
lighter sentence.
• A defendant may plead guilty to one charge in
exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to drop
another charge.
Plea Bargaining
The bargain a prosecutor will strike generally
depends on three factors:
• The seriousness of the offense
• The defendant’s criminal record
• The strength of the prosecutor’s case
Plea Bargaining
There is neither a constitutional basis nor a
statutory basis for plea bargaining.
Plea bargaining developed out of custom, but
has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Plea Bargaining
Plea bargaining is widely used because of
several factors:
• It reduces uncertainty in the criminal justice
• It serves the interest of the participants
 Prosecutors get high conviction rates.
 Judges reduce their caseload.
Plea Bargaining
 Defense attorneys spend less time on each case
and avoid expensive trials.
 Defendants get lighter sentences than they
might have gotten from juries, and can avoid
conviction on stigmatizing crimes such as child

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