One of the most fundamental functions of any civilized society is the protection of its citizens from criminal victimization. In the United States, the primary responsibility for protecting innocent people from those who would harm them rests with the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system involves many components that are reviewed in this section. The effectiveness of this system relates directly to the appropriate balancing of rights, roles, and responsibilities of the various participants within the system.
In his preface to The Price of Perfect Justice, Macklin Fleming (1974) reminds us that “the Goddess of Justice is traditionally depicted holding in one hand the scales of justice, with which she weighs the right, and in the other the sword, with which she executes it.” The criminal justice system involves a delicate balance among its many components in the search for truth and justice. This section discusses the dynamics of this balance among the various agencies and professionals within the criminal justice system, and how the victim of crime figures into these dynamics.
ELEMENTS OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM CONTINUUM
There are many elements and “players” within the criminal justice system that need to be understood if one is to effectively advocate for the rights of crime victims. Of course, a fundamental precondition is that many of these rights have been established within the legislative and case law framework in different states.
Assuming certain basic rights and protections are in place, then victims and their advocates have some foothold to enforce these rights. Those primarily responsible for assuring that victims are afforded the protections and assistance they deserve are criminal justice system professionals.
The criminal justice system, at its fundamental level, includes the following:
- Law enforcement.
- Defense counsel.
- Institutional corrections.
Allied professions, such as mental health, child welfare, medical, and others, often have significant roles within the criminal justice process. The dynamics of these professional perspectives within the system need to be understood to best protect victims’ rights.