Religious beliefs played heavily in legal thinking of the early colonial period, a period dating from 1607 to the end of the American Revolution (1775–83; a war fought between Great Britain and the American colonies in which the colonies won their independence). The modern American criminal justice system has its roots in the legal concepts carried by early English settlers to the New World. Drawn from the English legal system the colonists knew back home, colonial law evolved substantially through the next three centuries from the time of the first settlements up to the Revolutionary War. Following the war, independence from England allowed a distinctly new American legal system shaped by the experiences of the early colonists.
European settlement of North America
In 1492 the explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) arrived from Spain to what Europeans referred to as the New World. Some seventy years of exploration of the North American continent by various European adventurers followed before settlements began. Explorers discovered the New World
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The Early Years of American Law
From the time of the American Revolution (1775–83) until the early part of the twentieth century, pieces of the American criminal justice system gradually came together to include courts, professional policing, and prisons at the federal and state levels. A criminal justice system is the collection of public agencies including the police, courts, and prison officials responsible for apprehending (catching and arresting), determining the guilt, and imposing the sentence of criminal offenders.
During the colonial period prior to the American Revolution (1775–83), no distinctive American legal system existed. Criminal codes, punishments, and courts varied from colony to colony. By the mid-1700s a reform movement was underway to create a more unified American legal system. The Revolution greatly sped up the reform process. The colonists' victory over Britain brought independence and a new justice system that provided both protection and rights for its citizens. The first several decades following the Revolution were an experimental period in criminal justice as court decisions and legislation formed the foundation for a modern criminal justice system.
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Modern Criminal Justice
In early 1929 newly elected Herbert Hoover (1874–1964; served 1929–33) became the first U.S. president to mention crime as a major issue in his inauguration speech. A crime wave caused by bootleggers (persons who illegally made and sold alcohol) and gangsters swept America in the 1920s, thanks in large part to the introduction of Prohibition. Prohibition made it illegal to make, sell, or possess alcoholic beverages, which created a huge demand for obtaining and producing it illegally.
Respect for the criminal justice system, consisting of police, courts, and prisons, greatly declined as the public and criminals dodged the alcohol ban in every way possible. Law enforcement seemed very unskilled in enforcing the new law. As the crime spree continued through the decade, it became more violent and improvements in law enforcement gained greater public support.
From the 1930s into the twenty-first century, the federal government played an active role in criminal justice. Still, the states shouldered most criminal justice responsibility for the major crimes of murder, armed robbery, rape, theft, larceny,
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Violent Crime: Crime Against a Person
On the evening of January 27, 2001, Roxana Verona arrived at the home of Susanne and Half Zantop for dinner. Verona and the Zantops were professors at Dartmouth, an elite Ivy League university in the peaceful wooded town of Hanover, New Hampshire. The Zantops lived in Etna, a village just outside Hanover. When Verona arrived at the Zantop home, she immediately sensed something might be wrong. Although the lights were shining brightly through the windows, it was eerily quiet. Verona entered the house, calling out to let the Zantops know she had arrived. When she came to the study she was greeted by a horrific scene: the Zantops lay in pools of dried blood, murder victims in their own upscale, rural home.
The murderers turned out to be two middle-class, intelligent teenagers—sixteen-year-old Jimmy Parker and seventeen-year-old Robert Tulloch. The boys robbed the Zantops so they could travel the world, and killed their victims to eliminate witnesses. As news of the murders spread through the media, shocked Americans were reminded that violent crime was a very real part of their country, even reaching into its most quiet towns.
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Crimes Against Property
Crimes against property are crimes of theft where no force or threat of force is directed toward an individual. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as reported in Crime in the United States, 2002, thefts known as property crimes include "the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson." Burglary involves the unlawful entry into a structure, such as a home or building, to steal something. Larceny-xtheft is the unlawful taking of property, but does not involve unlawful entry. Motor vehicle theft not only includes stealing automobiles but other vehicles such as motorcycles and snowmobiles. Arson, though not a theft crime, is a crime against property that involves the intentional burning of a structure. All statistics in this chapter are from the UCR Program's Crime in the United States.
Crimes against property are usually motivated by financial gain. Going back in history for many centuries, thievery was very common. Travelers on the European continent and in England were often preyed upon by everyone from poor peasants to noblemen down on their luck. Soldiers and warriors took what they pleased as they traveled through rural
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Sociologist Edwin Sutherland (1883–1950) first coined the term "white-collar crime" around 1939 and used it for the title of a book published in 1949. White-collar crime is difficult to define because it can be committed by anyone with money and apply to many different activities. White-collar crime is illegal activity carried on within normally legal business transactions. For example, white-collar crime comes from within legal businesses such as banking, stock trading, or insurance claims. It does not include drug trafficking or smuggling, since both activities are illegal. White-collar crime is also nonviolent.
The motive of white-collar crime is personal gain. Individuals or groups may use and abuse their positions within a company to hide or steal money. White-collar crime can be committed by one individual like a car repairman charging for unnecessary work on a vehicle. Or it can involve a number of individuals in a large corporation who deceive investors (those who own stock in the company) while fattening their own bank accounts by millions of dollars.
A common term associated with white-collar crime is fraud. Fraud is the intentional deception of a person, business,
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Some of the most recognizable names associated with U.S. organized crime include "Lucky" Luciano (1892–1962), Meyer Lansky (1902–1983), Al Capone (1899–1947), and "Bugsy" Siegel (1906–1947). Legendary American Mafia or Cosa Nostra crime families include the Colombos, Bonannos, Genoveses, Luccheses, and Gambinos. Famous gangs include the Hell's Angels, the Bloods, the Crips, the Green Light Gangs, the Gangster Disciples, and the Latin Kings. These notable crime bosses, crime families, and street gangs span a time period from the 1920s to the 2000s.
The legends and stories of real life mobsters and street gangs have often captivated our nation's imagination. The entertainment industry fed this fascination with the The Godfather (1972–90) movies and the Home Box Office (HBO) cable television series, The Sopranos. Both depict the extravagant mob lifestyle of fancy cars, clothes, and ritzy homes. The characters of Don Vito Corleone and Tony Soprano, although fictional, have become the public's perception of what real crime families are like.
By the 1990s a number of organized crime units operating within the United States had home bases far from American
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Public Order Crimes
Public order crimes are actions that do not conform to society's general ideas of normal social behavior and moral values. Moral values are the commonly accepted standards of what is considered right and wrong. Public order crimes are widely viewed as harmful to the public good or harmful and disruptive to a community's daily life. In this chapter the public order crimes described include prostitution, paraphilia, and pornography, as well as alcohol and drug offenses.
Prostitution is selling or performing sexual acts in return for payment, generally money. Paraphilia is sexual behavior considered bizarre or abnormal, such as voyeurism (spying on another for sexual pleasure) or pedophilia (sexual desire involving children). Pornography includes videos, books, photographs, and other materials focusing on nudity and sexual activities.
While crimes against people and property (see chapters 4 and 5) involve actions considered wrong by any standard, public order crimes are defined by the social and moral rules of the day. For example, prostitution was licensed, legal, and socially acceptable in ancient Greece. Around 500 B.C.E.
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In the United States through the first half of the twentieth century little attention was paid to protecting the environment. Americans simply thought the environment and its resources were to be used to build a mighty industrial nation, to build cities, and to create the world's most productive agricultural system. Modern-day environmentalists, those who promote the protection of the environment, often point to the publication in 1962 of the book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, as a key factor in the start of environmental awareness. Carson, who was a biologist and longtime U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, warned her readers about the destructive properties of pesticides. Pesticides are chemicals used to rid areas or crops of harmful insects and bugs.
Carson researched the effects of pesticides and found that birds, fish, and animals were harmed and that pesticides were also entering the human food chain. Silent Spring not only focused global attention on the environment but led to laws restricting the use of pesticides.
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Terrorism is the preplanned use of force or violence against innocent civilians to make a statement about a cause and influence an audience. Terrorist action is staged for maximum surprise, shock, and destruction. Its goal is to so terrorize or alarm individuals, groups, or governments that they give into the demands of the terrorists.
Terrorists are individuals or groups who plan and carry out violent acts to achieve their goals. While victims see them as murderous criminals, terrorists see themselves as heroes for their cause. The U.S. intelligence community further defines terrorist groups as subnational, not a recognized government or official agency of any country, and as operating in secret. The actions of a country's military or police are not considered terrorist acts.
Global terrorism continually impacted nations in the twentieth century and into the early 2000s. Europe, the United States, the Middle East, South America, Asia, and African countries all experienced violent unexpected terror acts. This chapter describes the different types of terrorism, the techniques used to spread fear by injury, murder, or the destruction of
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The Internet is a worldwide electronic computer network that connects people and information. It has changed the way Americans communicate, purchase goods and services, educate, and entertain themselves. Possibilities for Internet use seem unlimited. Communication anywhere in the world takes only seconds with electronic mail, or email. Pictures and sound files are easily sent by email. People in areas far from cities can buy as many goods off the Internet as are available in shopping malls. Those who live far from colleges can take courses through the Internet or do research without going to a library. Searching databases such as encyclopedias or directories takes only minutes. News is available online almost as soon as it happens.
Anyone can set up a Web site and post information for the whole world to see. The Internet has also become a major way for companies and the government to conduct business and provide information. By 2004 a serious disruption of computer systems in either a business or government agency can virtually stop all transactions until the problem is corrected. In 1998 65 million Americans at work and at home used the Internet. This figure grew to 149 million by 2001 and
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Causes of Crime
How do some people decide to commit a crime? Do they think about the benefits and the risks? Why do some people commit crimes regardless of the consequences? Why do others never commit a crime, no matter how desperate their circumstances? Criminology is the study of crime and criminals by specialists called criminologists. Criminologists study what causes crime and how it might be prevented.
Throughout history people have tried to explain what causes abnormal social behavior, including crime. Efforts to control "bad" behavior go back to ancient Babylon's Code of Hammurabi some 3,700 years ago. Later in the seventeenth century European colonists in North America considered crime and sin the same thing. They believed evil spirits possessed those who did not conform to social norms or follow rules. To maintain social order in the settlements, persons who exhibited antisocial behavior had to be dealt with swiftly and often harshly.
By the twenty-first century criminologists looked to a wide range of factors to explain why a person would commit crimes. These included biological, psychological, social, and economic
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According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) almost twenty-three million Americans over twelve years of age were victims of violent crimes, property crimes, or both, in 2002. The term "victimization" is often used to describe the physical harm victims suffer from assault, rape, or murder, or financial loss due to theft, vandalism, or business corruption. Some 5.3 million crimes in 2002 were violent and 17.5 million were property crimes. Statistics from 1999 when crime rates were slightly higher showed there were 33 violent crime victims and 198 property crime victims for every 1,000 people over the age of twelve. The value of stolen property in 1999 was just less than $15 billion including $4.7 billion from theft and $7 billion in stolen vehicles.
For the first half of the twentieth century, crime victims received little attention in the criminal justice system. After the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened the constitutional rights of defendants in the 1960s, it seemed victims had fewer legal rights than criminals. Some victims became so distressed by the justice process they refused to testify in trials.
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Policing in the United States is highly decentralized, meaning the legal authority to police is split among federal, state, and local forces. Most police forces largely operate independently, unlike policing in other countries. Many nations including European countries have strong national police forces. In the United States, a number of federal agencies have their own police powers. At the beginning of the twenty-first century some seventeen thousand police organizations existed in the United States, all operating with some degree of independence.
The U.S. policing system is highly decentralized, meaning its forces are widely spread throughout the states and each with varying amounts of power and independence. This kind of policing system was created by early American colonists who opposed having an authoritarian (highly centralized government power) police force, the kind they had while under British rule. The decentralized structure of the U.S. system, however, meant it evolved very slowly for the next century and beyond.
For much of U.S. history, few rules existed to guide policing. Not until the early twentieth century did police reformers
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Crime laboratories offer forensic science services to the criminal justice system. Forensic science applies scientific testing methods and the latest technologies to collect, preserve, process, and analyze evidence. Proof of guilt or innocence is frequently determined by the results of forensic evidence.
Forensic science is a combination of many kinds of knowledge, some of which have existed, however primitive, for centuries. These include weapon identification, fingerprinting, document analysis, chemical identification, and trace analysis of hair and fibers. Two newer disciplines that have become major components of the twenty-first century crime laboratory are DNA analysis and explosive investigation.
The leading forensic laboratory in the world is at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), located 50 miles outside of Washington, D.C., in Quantico, Virginia. The FBI Laboratory moved from its site in downtown Washington, D.C., to its newly built facility in early 2003. The FBI Lab, with approximately 650 employees, partners with state and local crime laboratories throughout the country to solve criminal cases.
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Federal and state governments each consist of three sections: the legislative branch to make laws, the executive branch to carry out the laws, and the judicial branch or court system to resolve legal disputes and administer justice. The U.S. Constitution developed a delicate balance of power between the three branches so one cannot hold sway over either of the other two.
The three branches, however, did not develop equally after the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1787. The court systems, including criminal courts, were the slowest part of the U.S. government to take form. This lag in development can be traced back to the colonial period prior to the American Revolution (1775–83).
Over the next two centuries, the federal government changed a great deal. By the twenty-first century, criminal courts were the centerpiece of a complex U.S. justice system. With federal courts limited to matters involving federal law, including federal crimes and constitutional issues, state courts enjoyed broader jurisdiction and were the location of most criminal trials. State court decisions could be appealed to
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Apprehension, examination before a judge, and correction are the three components of the U.S. criminal justice system. Apprehension, the investigation and arrest of an individual suspected of committing a crime, is the responsibility of police and other law enforcement agencies. Once apprehended, an individual moves to the court system where a judge or jury listens to all sides of the case and decides on guilt or innocence. If found guilty, the convicted defendant is sentenced by the judge to some form of punishment. Once sentenced, the defendant enters the correctional process for punishment.
The legal term for sentence is "disposition." Disposition ranges from fines to imprisonment in a large, tightly guarded correctional facility. The history of an individual's behavior and the seriousness of the crime are significant factors used in determining the type of punishment.
Courts look carefully at a defendant's past criminal behavior. A first-time offender may be given a lighter sentence than a habitual or repeat offender. For example, if a gun was used in a robbery, placing victims at considerable risk of bodily
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Military and Native American Criminal Justice
In the early twenty-first century multiple criminal justice systems existed in the United States. Two major kinds of systems—in addition to the civilian U.S. criminal justice system—were the military justice system and numerous American Indian or Native American justice systems. The military judicial system balances the rights of military service members with the need to maintain strict discipline. It has jurisdiction (legal authority in a geographic area) over all military members accused of criminal conduct no matter where they are stationed in the world.
Military justice is one part of military law; another is martial law, which is when the military exerts police power in politically unstable areas. The military justice system changed through time from being strictly run by military commanders who exerted considerable influence over proceedings of each trial to a more formal, standardized process that included protection of the constitutional rights of accused service men and women and provided them an opportunity to appeal decisions. Since the mid-twentieth century, fairness in the judicial process has been considered important in maintaining
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In the early twenty-first century most people assumed juveniles would be treated differently than adults in the U.S. criminal justice system. This distinction did not come to pass until the end of the nineteenth century. In criminal justice, juveniles are youths who are not old enough to be held fully responsible for their crimes. Juvenile justice is largely a state matter and is separate from the regular adult criminal justice system.
Most states set the age of eighteen as when a person assumes the responsibilities of being an adult in criminal law. Some states send youth as young as seven to juvenile courts. Though there are federal juvenile laws for persons under age eighteen, for youths accused of committing federal crimes, this is a very minor part of criminal law.
Juvenile courts have jurisdiction over children in three basic kinds of situations: (1) when they are accused of conduct that would be a crime by an adult; (2) when parents or guardians abuse or neglect them or when they are in need; and, (3) when they violate rules that apply only to juveniles, called status offenses. Status offenses include unapproved absence
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From the late nineteenth century into the early twenty-first century, U.S. society increasingly became concerned about the welfare of the nation's children. Congress and the states passed special laws recognizing that children held a right to a healthful upbringing and are particularly vulnerable to being victimized by criminals. Children have a right to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and safety from society's ills. All states have laws requiring biological parents to provide these basic needs. However parents are given much discretion on how they satisfy these responsibilities of providing nurturing and safety. Criminal penalties were provided for those who denied these rights through abuse, assault, abduction, or some other action. The laws addressed acts against children at home, in places of worship, at childcare facilities, and in the workplace. The laws also placed an emphasis on prevention as well as prosecution.
The basis for these criminal laws was the recognition that children have special needs separate from adults. By the twentieth century the public determined that to protect the long-term interests of society children must be provided the basic
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Adramatic series of school shootings between 1995 and 1999 startled the nation. Deadly violence within schools struck fear in the public and particularly school-age youth across the nation. Beginning in 1989, there had been an increase in school violence, ranging from verbal harassment, threats of harm, and violent crime.
Overall national violent crime rates dropped after 1993 and continued at lower levels into the twenty-first century. Similarly, following a period of increased violence by juveniles (youth less than eighteen years of age) between 1989 and 1993, youth violence had begun to level off or decline as well. Crimes reported by schools dropped 10 percent between 1995 and 1999. The decrease in youth violence, however, was less than the overall trend.
Public concern about school violence rose significantly as school shootings dominated the media's attention from 1997 to 1999. This was despite the fact that these high-profile crimes occurred during a period in which violent deaths related to schools and school activities had decreased by 40 percent.
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Moral and Religious Influences
The influence of religion and morality on criminal justice has been of major importance throughout history. Morality is society's set of accepted rules and norms of behavior. Morality is commonly part of religious belief; a primary role of religion is to exert control over its followers by setting and promoting rules and customs for people to follow. In turn, these rules help establish criminal laws in a government's justice system.
The role of religion in defining crimes in America's colonial society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was clear. Key crimes included blasphemy (showing a lack of reverence toward God), sexual deviance, and heresy (holding a belief that conflicts with church doctrine). Early punishments focused on shame and guilt as ways of bringing those who strayed back into the fold. This shame and guilt were supposed to make the offender apologize, ask forgiveness, and live a better life.
Earlier yet in the Old World execution was the favored means of punishing those who broke society's rules. The role of prison chaplains (reverends, priests, or rabbis) in the late
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Crime is a major part of every society. Its costs and effects touch just about everyone to some degree. The types of costs and effects are widely varied. In addition, some costs are short-term while others last a lifetime. Of course the ultimate cost is loss of life. Other costs to victims can include medical costs, property losses, and loss of income.
Losses to both victims and nonvictims can also come in the form of increased security expenses including stronger locks, extra lighting, parking in more expensive secure lots, security alarms for homes and cars, and maintaining guard dogs. Considerable money is spent to avoid being victimized. Other types of expenses can include a victim or person fearful of crime moving to a new neighborhood, funeral expenses, legal fees, and loss of school days.
Some costs of crime are less tangible (not easily or precisely identified). These kinds of costs can include pain and suffering, and a lower quality of life. There are also the traumatic impacts on friends and the disruption of family. Behavior can be forever changed and shaped by crime, whether it be weighing the risks of going to certain places or even the fear of making new friends.
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Race and Ethnicity
The United States of the twenty-first century is a result of five hundred years of immigration combined with the surviving Native American populations. The first European settlements along the Atlantic coastline in the early seventeenth century began a three-century forced relocation of hundreds of established Native American societies.
Waves of immigrants came to the United States after the early European settlers and continued into the twenty-first century. Some came by choice, others by force. Most early immigration was from Great Britain and northern Europe. Before long, black slaves were brought in from western Africa. By the late nineteenth century, east European, Asian, and Hispanic populations had arrived.
White Anglo-Saxons dominated the settlements at the time of the American Revolution (1775–83), though this steadily gave way to a greater mix of people. By the 2000 census, about one-third of all Americans considered themselves minorities. This increasing diversity of the U.S. population raised difficult issues in the criminal justice system.
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Criminal trials, by their very nature, are public events. Prosecuting attorneys are public officers of the court, judges are often elected officials, and juries who decide the fate of the accused consist of members of the community. As with all public events of importance, the news media play a major role in relaying information to the public and providing access to events the public otherwise would not have. Despite this vital public service, the rights of the media have sometimes clashed with the rights of those on trial.
Technological advances and the easing of rules regarding televised proceedings have allowed the public to enter the courtroom on a wider scale. This increased access can serve the public interest or create a circus-like atmosphere. Since people have been able to learn more about the benefits and flaws of the criminal justice process, movies, television series, and books that document trials, lawyers, judges, and criminals have soared in popularity.
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