Most people's understanding of the criminal justice system comes from television, movies, news, and books. While these sources dramatize criminal law and its procedures, they are not particularly useful for the person who may find themselves, or their friends or family, personally involved with the criminal justice system.
The "system" includes steps of investigation, arrest, trial, conviction, and sentencing and the people involved with these steps: police, victims, defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys, bail bondsmen, witnesses, judges, juries, probation officers and correction officers.
The State's Attorney and his staff are responsible for bringing charges against a person or persons and prosecuting the case in court. In cases where there is a conviction, the State's Attorney may make sentencing recommendations to the Court.
The State's Attorney also provides services for victims and witnesses and can assist victims and witnesses in locating other services provided by the county or state.
Crimes are certain types of conduct that society and government have deemed dangerous to individuals or damaging to the whole society. Most crimes are defined by statutes (laws) passed by our federal, state or local government. For example, the Maryland General Assembly enacts criminal laws that apply in the State of Maryland. Congress in Washington enacts laws that apply to everyone in our country. Criminal statutes describe the type of conduct defined as criminal and the punishment for violating a statute.
Although a crime occurs between a victim and the person who commits the crime, the criminal case brought to court is between the State (the prosecutor) and the person charged with committing the crime (the defendant).A person may be found guilty of a crime by his or her own admission (such as a guilty plea) or by a verdict passed by a judge or jury in a trial. Once judged guilty, a person may be punished by the Court through the imposing of restitution, fines, imprisonment, probation, community service or other penalties.
Fundamental Rights and Criminal Procedure
There are two fundamental rights that characterize our criminal justice system: the presumption of innocence and the criminal standard beyond a reasonable doubt used in determining if a defendant is guilty or not guilty.
No matter how heinous or disturbing the crime, the defendant is presumed innocent throughout the entire process until the judge or jury (called the fact finder) has determined that the defendant is, in fact, guilty.
A defendant may be found guilty only if the State (the prosecutor) can convince the fact finder that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing the crime charged.
Criminal Procedure is a collection of laws, court decisions and procedures that protects the rights of the person charged with a crime. Criminal procedure springs from the fundamental right that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Our federal and state constitutions sets out the powers of the governments and protections of the civil rights of individuals including such protections such as due process, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure. Federal and state court decisions interpret how these constitutional rights apply to particular situations or if an action by the government violated these rights, and what the remedy is for a violation.