Introduction to Justice and Punishment

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Introduction to Justice and Punishment

In many countries there is a fundamental and ancient division of the law into civil and criminal law (see "Code Civil des Français"); each system has its own procedures and penalties. Although there are exceptions, civil law (also called private law in some countries) generally deals with administrative matters and contractual or property disputes between citizens. Theft, fraud, crimes of violence, etc. fall into the domain of the criminal justice system.

According to data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the majority of crimes in the United States remain unsolved (and statistics are similar in most other countries). Arrests, however, lead to a highly defined judicial process, and upon conviction, a range of proscribed punishments.

If an arrest occurs and a suspect is charged with the crime, a judge must then decide whether to hold the suspect in custody or release the suspect on bail. Depending on the type and severity of crime, a range of proceedings then further determine whether there is sufficient evidence to put a suspect on trial for potential loss of property and liberty. In the United States, by law, a suspect is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty (convicted by a jury of peers). At any stage in the judicial process, however, a plea of guilty by the accused changes the process to one designed to assign appropriate punishment in the form of probation, diversionary program, fine and/or incarceration.

To give adequate coverage to all judicial systems this book would need several additional volumes devoted to that subject. There are profound differences in judicial systems and in the ultimate punishment for crime. In some countries, for example, corporal punishment in the form of beatings or caning is still considered appropriate punishment for crimes that might merit only a small fine in the United States.

Although abolished in many Western nations, capital punishment is still used in many states within the U.S. The issue and practice merits wide coverage in the following section. Despite attempts to make the processes as clinical and painless as possible (see "Execution by Lethal Injection: Missouri" and "Execution by Electrocution") the death penalty remains contentious—even as punishment for crimes of treason (see "Must They Die?"), and especially when possible inequities in sentencing or errors in conviction are clearly demonstrable (see "Illinois Stops Executions"). Other countries, however, expand the use and forms of capital punishment (see "Use of Beheading and Amputation in Saudi Penal System").

The judicial system in the United States came under intense scrutiny following the trial of former American football star O.J. Simpson. The trial was widely televised and critics argue that it showed critical weaknesses of the jury system when average citizens are asked to weigh technical forensic evidence. The trial started a wave of televised trials and turned courtroom drama into the ultimate "reality series", at times with life and death at stake. Critics argue that the trial of the once wealthy and popular Simpson also provided evidence of the persuasiveness of powerful and skilled attorneys and thus laid bare the reality of a two-tiered level of justice: that available to the rich as opposed to that available for the poor.

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Introduction to Justice and Punishment

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Introduction to Justice and Punishment