What is the most important component of the criminal justice system?

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In the traditional sense, we think of the criminal justice system as beginning with laws made by legislatures, policing efforts, court systems, various alternatives to incarceration, and the prison system. Thinking more conceptually, the criminal justice system is based upon the notion that all people are equal under the law....

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In the traditional sense, we think of the criminal justice system as beginning with laws made by legislatures, policing efforts, court systems, various alternatives to incarceration, and the prison system. Thinking more conceptually, the criminal justice system is based upon the notion that all people are equal under the law. We know, of course, the validity of this notion is tested daily with mixed results, as arrests and incarceration rates appear disproportionate in minority communities by comparison to majority communities. Nonetheless, an argument can be made the most essential component of the criminal justice system is the faith and confidence in which citizens place in the idea that the United States criminal justice system makes an effort to be fundamentally fair, equitable, and just.

The notion of equitable treatment is enshrined in numerous parts of the US Constitution and replicated in state constitutions as well. Equality of the law is demonstrated in a citizen's initial contact with law enforcement officials, the investigatory process, grand jury findings, and if the case makes its way to court, the judicial process. It is easy to forget that if the majority of citizens lose confidence in the basic idea of equal protection under the law and the presumption of fair treatment, the entire criminal justice system collapses.

While other components are more tangible, the intangible belief that in the United States the criminal justice system is fair is the most important component.

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One of the most important elements of the American criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence. This means that any defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution in a criminal court case has the responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. This means that the prosecution has the burden of producing evidence against the defendant and that the defendant must be regarded as not guilty until the prosecution has produced enough evidence to utterly convince the jury of the defendant's guilt. There must be a preponderance of evidence, meaning that there is no doubt left in the jury's mind that the defendant committed the crime. In our system, it is presumed that it is better to let a guilty person go free than to convict an innocent person.

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In the United States, two likely answers to this question include the variety of systems and the underlying importance of the Constitution. The criminal justice system exhibits a huge amount of variety through the country, as it is actually a number of interrelated systems; different jurisdictions, including cities and states, have different laws, procedures, and sentences, as well as violations of those things by people employed in the system (for example, police brutality and excessively long sentences). Within the entire country, however, everyone is supported by the same rights in a single, national constitution. Some rights relevant to criminal justice include those established in Article Three and others laid out in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the Bill of Rights.

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To echo the previous thoughts, this is completely speculative.  In my mind, the rights of the accused, as embedded in the Constitution, represents the most important component of the criminal justice system.  The idea of the accused having the standard of being "innocent until proven guilty" and the prosecutor having to meet an evidential burden of different types in attempting to prove the guilt of the defendant as well as the accused's opportunity to cross examine witnesses, to openly face them, as well as the examine the evidence presented against them in a careful and thorough manner all represent aspects of the judicial system that help to ensure a sense of fairness and theoretical equity.

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There is no way to give you a factual answer to this question as it is a matter of opinion.

You could argue that juries are the most important component of the criminal justice system in the United States.  They are guaranteed by the Constitution and are the ones who determine guilt or innocence.

On the other hand, the vast majority of cases never go to trial because of plea bargains.  Because of this, you can argue that the prosecutors are the most important component because they are the ones who determine what plea deals will be offerred.

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