Courts, Crime, And Controversy

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The Courts and the Criminal JusticeSystemAn Interdependent Criminal JusticeSystemA Fragmented Criminal JusticeNonsystemTensions and ConflictsThe Blame GameCourts, Crime, and the PublicFinding the CourthouseIdentifying the Actors in the CourthouseProsecutorsDefense AttorneysJudgesDefendants and Their VictimsFollowing the Steps of the ProcessCrimeArrestInitial AppearanceBailPreliminary HearingCharging DecisionGrand JuryArraignmentEvidencePlea NegotiationsTrialSentencingAppealLaw on the BooksCase Close-Up: OverviewLaw in ActionAssembly-line JusticeDiscretionThe Courtroom Work GroupA Day in Court: OverviewControversy: OverviewCourts and ControversyCrime Control ModelDue Process ModelThe Murder Trial of ShareefCousin: OverviewConclusionCritical Thinking QuestionsWorld Wide Web Resourcesand ExercisesInfoTrac College Edition Resourcesand ExercisesReferencesFor Further ReadingChapter 1Courts, Crime,and ControversyThe murder was shocking, even in a city recently proclaimedmurder capital of the United States. For their first date, Michael Gerardigave Connie Babin a single red rose and took her out to dinner at the Portof Call restaurant on the edge of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. As they werereturning to his truck parked a block away they were confronted by three black youths.Before Gerardi had a chance to hand over his wallet he was shot in the face. The parttime bartender, who was also a medical student, provided emergency first aid but tono avail. Michael Gerardi was killed during what became known as New Orleans’bloodiest week.1

Amid intense local media coverage, the majority African American jury convictedShareef Cousin of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. National attentionsoon focused on the case as well. Shareef Cousin became a poster child for theanti–death penalty movement; he was only sixteen at the time of the murder and thusgarnered the dubious distinction of being one of the youngest people on America’sdeath row. The murder in front of the Port of Call restaurantprovides but one poignant example that crime hasbeen a pressing national concern for four decades.Newspapers headline major drug busts. Local television news broadcasts graphic footage of the latestmurder scene. Not to be outdone, the nationalmedia offer tantalizing details on the latest sensational crime or prominent criminal. Meanwhile,official government statistics document high murder rates, and unofficial pollsters report that Americans believe crime rates are too high. These concerns prompt governmental response. Candidatesfor public office promise that, if elected, they will gettough on criminals. Governmental officials, in turn,announce bold new programs to eradicate streetcrime, reduce violence, and end the scourge ofdrugs. Yet, despite all the attention and promises,street crime remains a volatile, persistent, and intractable issue in America (Scheingold 1991).A good deal of the political rhetoric aboutcrime focuses on the criminal courts. Judges anddefense attorneys—much more so than police chiefsand prison wardens—are blamed for high crimerates. Prosecutors are viewed as being too ready toengage in plea bargaining. Judges are accused ofimposing unduly lenient sentences. Appellate courtsare blamed for allowing obviously guilty defendantsto go free on technicalities. Meanwhile, the policecomplain that Supreme Court decisions handcuffthe fight against crime. Victims of crime becomefrustrated by lengthy trial delays. Witnesses protestwasted trips to the courthouse.The purpose of this chapter is to build on public perceptions of the criminal courts by focusing ona few basic topics. We begin by discussing where thecourts fit in the criminal justice system and how thepublic perceives the courts. Next, attention shifts tothe three activities that set the stage for the rest ofthe book:2 Finding the courthouse Identifying the actors Following the steps of the processAs we will see shortly, the judicial process iscomplicated, so throughout this book we will examine the courts from three perspectives: Law on the books Law in action Courts in controversyAn easy way to read about crimes making headlinesacross the United States is to point your browser to an up-to-date list of Web links, go to BOX1 HERETHE COURTS AND THE CRIMINALJUSTICE SYSTEMFighting crime is a major societal activity. Every yearlocal, state, and federal governments spend 112 billion to apprehend, convict, and punish criminals(Gifford 1999). These tax dollars support an enormous assortment of criminal justice agencies, whoin turn employ a large (and growing) number ofemployees; roughly 2 million people earn their livingworking in the criminal justice system. These governmental officials are quite busy; every yearthe police make more than 14.5 million arrests, andevery day correctional personnel supervise 6.3 million people. Yet as large as these figures are, theystill underestimate societal activity directed againstcrime. A substantial number of persons are employed in the private sector either directly (defense

CHAPTER 1 COURTS, CRIME, AND CONTROVERSYattorneys and bail agents) or indirectly (locksmithsand security consultants) (Hakim, Rengert, andShachmurove 1996). There are, for example, moreprivate security guards than public law enforcementofficers in the United States (Cunningham, Strauchs,and VanMeter 1991).The numerous public agencies involved in implementing public policy concerning crime are referred to as the criminal justice system. Figure 1-1depicts the criminal justice system as consisting ofthree overlapping circles: Police are responsible forapprehending criminals; the courts are responsiblefor deciding whether those arrested are legallyguilty, and if so, determining the sentence; corrections is responsible for carrying out the penaltyimposed on the guilty.The major components of the criminal justicesystem do not make up a smoothly functioningand internally consistent organization. Rather, thecriminal justice system is both interdependent andfragmented.An InterdependentCriminal Justice SystemViewing the various components of criminal justiceas a system highlights the fact that these differentagencies are interdependent and interrelated (Walker1992). Police, courts, and corrections are separategovernmental institutions with different goals, histories, and operating procedures. Though separate,they are also tied together because they must interact with one another. The courts play a pivotal rolewithin the criminal justice system because manyformal actions pertaining to suspects, defendants,and convicts involve the courts. Only the judiciarycan hold a suspect in jail prior to trial, find a defendant guilty, and sentence the guilty to prison. Alternatively, of course, the courts may release the suspect awaiting trial, find the suspect not guilty, ordecide to grant probation.The decisions that courts make have importantconsequences for other components of the criminaljustice system. Judges’ bail policies, for example,Criminal justice system: Agencies and institutionsdirectly involved in the implementation of publicpolicy concerning crime, mainly the law enforcementagencies, courts, and corrections.3FIGURE 1-1 The Overlapping Circlesof the Criminal Justice SystemCorrectionsCourtsPolicePublicimmediately affect what happens to a person arrested by the police; likewise, corrections personnelare affected because the bail policies of the judgescontrol the size of the local jail population. If thedecisions made by the courts have important consequences for police and prisons, the reverse is equallytrue: The operations of law enforcement and corrections have a major impact on the judiciary. Themore felons the police arrest, the greater the workload of the prosecutors; and the more overcrowdedthe prisons, the more difficult it is for judges to sentence the guilty.For the latest statistics on the criminal justice system,just point your browser to the Bureau of JusticeStatistics Web site at an up-to-date list of Web links, go to BOX2 HEREA Fragmented CriminalJustice NonsystemThe system approach to criminal justice dominatescontemporary thinking about criminal justice. Butnot everyone is convinced of the utility of this conceptualization. Some people point to a nonsystem ofcriminal justice. Although the work of the police,courts, and corrections must, by necessity, overlap,

4CHAPTER 1 COURTS, CRIME, AND CONTROVERSYthis does not mean that their activities are coordinated, or coherent. From the perspective of the nonsystem, what is most salient is the fragmentation ofcriminal justice. Fragmentation characterizes eachcomponent of the criminal justice system. Thepolice component consists of more than 17,000 lawenforcement agencies, with varying traditions ofcooperation or antagonism. Likewise, the corrections component includes approximately 1,300 stateand federal correctional facilities, to say nothing ofthousands of local jails. But corrections also encompasses probation, parole, drug treatment, halfwayhouses, and the like.The same fragmentation holds true for thecourts. In many ways, talking about courts is misleading, because the activities associated with the“court” encompass a wide variety of actors. Manypeople who work in the courthouse are employed byseparate governmental agencies—judges, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, court reporters, andbailiffs, primarily. Others who work in the courthouse are private citizens, but their actions directlyaffect what happens in this governmental institution—defense attorneys and bail agents are primeexamples. Still others are ordinary citizens who findthemselves in the courthouse either because they arecompelled to be there—defendants and jurors—orbecause their activities are essential to case disposition—victims and witnesses.The fragmentation within the three componentsof the nonsystem of criminal justice is compoundedby the decentralization of government. Americangovernment is based on the principle of federalism,which distributes governmental power betweennational (usually referred to as federal) and stategovernments. In turn, state governments create localunits of government, such as counties and cities.Each of these levels of government is associated withits own array of police, courts, and corrections. Thisdecentralization adds tremendously to the complexity of American criminal justice. For example,depending on the nature of the law allegedly violated, several different prosecutors may bring chargesagainst a defendant, including the following: cityattorney (local), district attorney (county), attorneygeneral (state), U.S. attorney (U.S. district court),and U.S. attorney general (national).Needless to say, the fragmentation of the criminal justice nonsystem results in a lack of coordination between the components. Most actors arehighly specialized in their particular function andtherefore have little concern about the operation ofthe system as a whole (Heinz and Manikas 1992).This means that attempts to find solutions to aproblem typically involve the interactions of numerous governmental agencies, each with its own set ofpriorities. Consider a local jail filled to overflowing.When a federal court ordered a county jail to reduceovercrowding, an interagency task force was createdto coordinate the response of the county sheriff, citypolice departments, the state probation department,locally elected judges, and the county governingboard. As one would expect, there was considerabletension and conflict among these different organizations (Welsh and Pontell 1991).The Criminal Justice Resource Center is a goodstarting point for links to other criminal justice sites.Go to an up-to-date list of Web links, go to BOX3 HERETensions and ConflictsCriminal justice is best viewed as both a system anda nonsystem. Both interdependence and fragmentation characterize the interrelationships between theagencies involved in apprehending, convicting, andpunishing wrongdoers. In turn, these structuralarrangements produce tensions and conflicts withineach component. For example, a suburban policedepartment only reluctantly cooperates with its bigcity neighbor; the prosecutor loudly condemns theactions of a judge; and the prison warden expressesconcern over the activities of halfway houses.Tensions and conflicts occur also between thecomponents of criminal justice. The interrelationships between police, courts, and corrections areoften marked by tension and conflict because thework of each component is evaluated by others: Thepolice make arrests, yet the decision to charge ismade by the prosecutor; the judge and jury rate theprosecutor’s efforts.Decentralization again plays a role in the inherent tensions and conflicts in the criminal justicenonsystem. For example, it is not unusual to findthat the relationship between the city police department and a federal law enforcement agency ismarked by friction, nor is it unusual to find thatstate courts are frustrated by decisions of the federaljudiciary.Tensions and conflicts also result from multipleand conflicting goals concerning criminal justice.

CHAPTER 1 COURTS, CRIME, AND CONTROVERSYGovernmental officials bring to their work differentperspectives on the common task of processing persons accused of breaking the law. Tensions and conflicts among police, courts, and corrections, therefore, are not necessarily undesirable; because theyarise from competing goals, they provide importantchecks on other organizations, guaranteeing thatmultiple perspectives will be heard (Wright 1981).The Blame GameTensions and conflict, though typical and to beexpected, can nonetheless be frustrating, particularly to the public, which expects somebody to beresponsible for running the war on crime andinstead finds constant public bickering. In turn,some public officials seem more intent on blaminganother criminal justice official than on workingtoward a solution. Thus, the blame game is commonin criminal justice. Perhaps The New York Times(December 9, 1981, 30) said it best when it compared the justice system to Rubik’s Cube:It’s long been understood that criminal justice is aRubik’s Cube: what the police do will affect whathappens in court, which will affect what happensin the jails and prisons. You can’t hope to dealwith crime better by focusing on any single part—any more than you can solve the cube by concentrating on one square at a time.Yet for years criminal justice officials haveresponded to public frustration by focusing blameon each other—regarding small matters as well aslarge. We could hold speedier trials, say courtadministrators, if only the corrections peoplewould get the prisoners to court on time. Wecould keep more men on the street, say the police,if only the courts wouldn’t tie them up so longwhen they bring people in. We could send convictsto prison faster, say judges, if only the probationdepartment would prepare pre-sentencing reportson time.The editorial concluded that there certainly is plentyof blame to go around but that it is time that variousofficials begin turning such complaints into questions, and holding each other accountable for theanswers.Because the courts occupy a pivotal role withincriminal justice, they are most often the target ofthis blame game. It is important to emphasize, however, that although some of the blame game isindeed trivial, petty, and personal, a good deal of it5reflects basic organizational structure. Citizens arefrustrated because no one seems in charge, but in abasic sense this is by design.Throughout this book we will discuss efforts tobring greater coherence to the criminal justice system. Coordination is now a term heard throughoutthe system. Particularly in problem areas such asdomestic violence and drug abuse, actors in thecriminal justice system are instituting innovativeprograms that join activities, not only of law enforcement, courts, and corrections, but also healthcare and social services.Carl Sessions Stepp, “The Fallout from Too MuchCrime Coverage”WWW BOX4 HERECOURTS, CRIME,AND THE PUBLICPolice, courts, and corrections, of course, operatewithin a wider circle representing the general public.After all, it is the public whose tax dollars supportthe system. Because the courts occupy a pivotal position within the criminal justice system, the publichas high expectations for their performance. Consider, for example, the symbols that surround thecourts: the judges’ black robes and gavel; Lady Justice’s blindfold, the sword and scales of justice; andthe Constitution and Bill of Rights. These symbolsreinforce the principle that in a democratic societythe law places limits on governmental authority.Public confidence in the judiciary rests on theperception that the process is just, fair, and decent(Walker 2001). In particular, the public looks to thecourts as forums of fairness and impartiality, withevery citizen accused of a crime allowed to have hisor her day in court. At the same time, the publicexpects the courts to punish wrongdoers. A conviction at trial is a public dramatization that those whoviolate society’s rules will be punished. It also servesas a warning to potential wrongdoers. But at thesame time Americans harbor negative symbols ofthe American judicial process, represented byimages of shyster lawyers and legal loopholes thatallow the guilty to escape justice.Public assessments about crime and the courtshave remained remarkably constant over the lastdecades (Myers 1996). Three key sets of attitudesemerge in public opinion polls (Bureau of Justice

6CHAPTER 1 COURTS, CRIME, AND CONTROVERSYStatistics 2000; Gibbs and Hanrahan 1993; McCorkle1993; Durham 1993).First, Americans are concerned about crime: Eighty-three percent say their best guess is that “the crime rate in this country is going up.”Thirty-eight percent are afraid to walk alone atnight near where they live.Second, Americans often blame the courts forthe crime problem: Eighty-two percent believe that courts “do not deal harshly enough with criminals.”Sixty-eight percent conclude that “the policecan’t really do much about crime because thecourts have put too many restrictions on thepolice.”Fifty-five percent believe that “most judges havemore sympathy for the criminals than for theirvictims.”Finally, despite widespread dissatisfaction withthe performance of the criminal courts, when askedmore questions, Americans are highly supportive ofcourts and judges. Judges, far more than legislatorsor public administrators, retain the respect of thepublic: Seventy-five percent believe that judges are gen erally fair and honest in deciding each case.Ninety percent assume that if they were everaccused of a crime they would receive a fair trial.Public opinions about these matters are not uniform. Perceptions of the courts vary by race. Hispanics are more likely to be dissatisfied with the ability ofcourts to protect society and also voice concernsabout the quality of the courts. African Americansare more likely to be dissatisfied with equality andfairness of the judicial process (Myers 1996).Broad contours of public opinion aside, individuals often voice their opinions about the criminal court process, and often their views are negativeif not hostile. Letters to the editor typically portraythe courts as flawed; callers to radio talk shows complain that the system has failed. And in the era ofcyberspace, homepages spring up dedicated to“criminal justice reform.” In turn, books geared tothe general market carry catchy titles such as TheCollapse of Criminal Justice (Rothwax 1996).Beyond expressions of individual opinions, avariety of groups attempt to influence criminal jus-tice policy. At the national l

lic perceptions of the criminal courts by focusing on a few basic topics. We begin by discussing where the courts fit in the criminal justice system and how the public perceives the courts. Next, attention shifts to the three activities that set the stage for the rest of the book: Finding the courthouse Identifying the actors Following the steps of the process As we will see .

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