18 March 2012 Written by  Aderajew Teklu and Kedir Mohammed

Models of Criminal Justice Systems: the ‘Due Process’ and the ‘Crime Control’ Models

Models of Criminal Justice


The procedures for crime control, the processing of criminal defendants, and the sentencing, punishment, and management of convicted offenders are closely linked to the guarantees and prohibitions found in the bill of rights and interpretations of those provisions by the Supreme Court. Interestingly, however, the major criminology and criminal justice textbooks used during the first half of the 20th century make no mention of either the Bill of Rights or the United States Supreme Court. Not until the 1960 publication of the crime, justice, and correction by lawyer-sociologist W. Tappan did Supreme Court decisions begin to creep in to discussion of criminal justice processing. Actually, this should not be surprising. As will become apparent throughout this book, concerted Supreme Court activity in matters of criminal justice did not begin until the early 1960s. Since then the court has been extremely active. Its decisions can be understood within the context of two competing models of criminal justice: the due process model and the crime control model. Since these models underlie much of the discussion in later chapters, it is important to look at them more closely here.


The Due Process Model


In the 960s, Warren Court-the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren- announced a large number of decisions that were in accord with the due process model of the criminal justice system. This model stresses the possibility of error in the stages leading to trial. It therefore emphasizes the need to protect procedural rights even if this prevents the legal system from operating with maximum efficiency. Although no model can possibly describe reality in a completely satisfactory manner, the Warren Court’s decisions in the area of criminal law applied a relatively strict version of the due process model to the justice process. As mentioned earlier, one provision after another of the Bill of Rights was incorporated in to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby obliging the states to grant criminal defendants many of the constitutional safeguards that were already routinely accorded to those accused of federal crimes.


The Crime Control Model


Whereas the Warren Court clearly was attuned to the due process model of criminal justice, the Burger Court –the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Jstice Warren Burger-appeared to support an alternative model of the legal process-the crime control model. This model emphasizes efficiency and is based on the view that the most important function of the criminal process is repression of criminal conduct. Proponents of this model put a premium on speed and finally, and cannot understand why obviously guilty defendants should go free simply because of errors by police or court personnel.


Models of Criminal Justice Systems


In order to judge the effectiveness of a criminal justice system (or anything else for that matter}, you need first to know what that system sets out to do. The academic Herbert Packer {1968} has identified two quite different potential aims for criminal justice systems: the “due process” model; and “crime control” model. The former gives priority to fairness of procedure and to protecting the innocent from wrongful conviction, accepting that a high level of protection for suspects makes it more difficult to convict the guilty, and that some guilty people will therefore go free. The latter places most importance on convicting the guilty, taking the risk that occasionally some innocent people will be convicted. Obviously, criminal justice systems tend not to fall completely within one model or the other: most seek to strike a balance between the two. This is not always easy: imagine for a moment that you are put in charge of our criminal justice system, and you have to decide the balance at which it should aim. How many innocent people do you believe it is acceptable to convict? Bear in mind that if you answer “none”, the chances are that protections against this may have to be so strong that very few guilty people will be convicted either. Would it be acceptable for 10 percent of innocent people to be convicted if that means 50 percent of the guilty were also convicted? If that 10 percent seems totally unacceptable, does it become more reasonable if it means that 90 percent of the guilty are convicted? It is not an easy choice to make.

Looking at the balance which a criminal justice system seeks to strike, and how well that balance is in fact struck, is a useful way to assess the system’s effectiveness. As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, in recent years this balance has been the subject of much debate and disagreement as regards our criminal justice system, with the police, magistrates and the government claiming that the balance has been tipped too far in favor of suspects’ rights, at the expense of convicting the guilty. On the other hand, civil liberties organizations, many academics and the lawyers involved in the well-known miscarriages of justice feel that the system has not learned from those miscarriages, and that the protections for suspects are still inadequate.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 13:05