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Chapter 1 Crime and Justice in the US. Crime in the United States. Crime is a top concern of the American public. Crimes presented by the media are usually more sensational than the crimes routinely committed. Crime in the United States.

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Chapter 1

Crime and Justice

in the US


Crime in the United States

  • Crime is a top concern of the American public.
  • Crimes presented by the media are usually more sensational than the crimes routinely committed.

Crime in the United States

  • Most police calls involve responding to complaints of disturbances:
  • Domestic quarrels
  • Neighbor squabbles
  • Gang altercations
  • Loud music

Criminal Justice:An Institution of Social Control

There are a variety of responses to crime in the United States, from punishment to prevention.


Criminal Justice:An Institution of Social Control

  • Criminal justice is an institution of social control, as are:
    • The family
    • Schools
    • Organized religion
    • The media
    • The law

institution of social control

An organization that persuades people, through subtle and not-so-subtle means, to abide by the dominant values of society.


Criminal Justice:An Institution of Social Control

  • Criminal justice differs because:
    • It is concerned only with behavior that is actually criminal.
    • It is society’s “last line of defense.”

Criminal Justice:The System

Criminal justice in the United States is administered by a loose confederation of more than 50,000 agencies of federal, state, and local governments.

  • The police
  • The courts
  • Corrections

The criminal justice system



Criminal Justice:The System

The criminal justice system operates differently in some jurisdictions, but there are also similarities.


A politically defined geographical area.



The criminal justice response to crime begins when a crime is reported to the police, or when the police discover a crime has been committed.


Arrest Warrant

On rare occasions, police may obtain an arrest warrant from a lower-court judge before making an arrest.

arrest warrant

A written order directing law enforcement officers to arrest a person.



  • After a suspect has been arrested and booked, a prosecutor reviews the facts of the case and decides whether to charge the suspect with a crime.
  • If no charges are filed, the suspect must be released.

Pretrial Stages

About 90 percent of criminal defendants plead guilty to the charges against them, in an arrangement called plea bargaining.


plea bargaining

The practice whereby a specific sentence is imposed if the accused pleads guilty to an agreed-upon charge or charges instead of going to trial.



  • 10 percent of criminal cases go to trial.
    • 5 percent of criminal cases are decided in a bench trial.

bench trial

A trial before a judge, without a jury.



  • If the defendant is found guilty as charged
  • The judge (and sometimes the jury) begins to consider a sentence.

If the defendant is found not guilty

The defendant is released.



Currently, five types of punishment are used in the United States:

  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Intermediate punishments
  • Imprisonment
  • Death

Judges must impose sentences according to statutory guidelines.



Defendants can appeal their convictions either on legal or constitutional grounds.

  • Legal Grounds
  • Defects in jury selection
  • Improper admission of evidence at trial
  • Mistaken interpretations of law
  • Constitutional Grounds
  • Illegal search and seizure
  • Improper questioning by police
  • Incompetent assistance from counsel

Criminal Justice:The Nonsystem

The “criminal justice system” in the United States is really a “nonsystem.” Each agency works independently, and often in conflict with others.


A smoothly operating set of arrangements and institutions directed toward the achievement of common goals.


Criminal Justice:The Nonsystem

  • Judges impose prison sentences when there isn’t room in prisons to hold the offenders.
  • In every state, there is a separate process for juvenile offenders.
  • Police often say sentencing does not match the crime.

Criminal Justice:The Nonsystem

  • Prosecutors complain about shoddy police work.
  • Police complain that offenders are not prosecuted.

Costs of Criminal Justice

  • Each year in the United States an enormous amount of money is spent on criminal justice.
  • In 1999, local, state, and federal governments spent a total of $146 billion on civil and criminal justice.

Costs of Criminal Justice

State and local governments pay most of the cost of criminal justice. Generally speaking:

Local governments pay for police.

The federal government works strategically to influence criminal justice policies at other levels of government.


Costs of Criminal Justice

  • About 4 cents out of every tax dollar is spent on crime control.
  • Roughly two-thirds of the American public thinks the government should spend more.

Myths About Crime and

Criminal Justice

Much of the American public’s understanding of crime and criminal justice is wrong; it is based on myths.


Beliefs based on emotion rather than analysis.