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Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Chapter 9 explains how the courts function and what roles are played by those responsible for processing criminal cases.

The Courtroom Work Group

  • The courtroom work group refers to those who work in the courtroom. There is a great deal of cooperation inherent in the daily routine of the court.

  • Participants in the courtroom work group include the judge, the prosecutor, the defense, victims/defendants/witnesses, law enforcement officers, court support staff, corrections officers, and the public.

The Prosecutor

  • The prosecutor acts as a gatekeeper in deciding which cases are inserted into the system and which are dismissed.

  • According to David Neubauer, the prosecutor’s workload can be categorized into the following: fighting, negotiating, drafting, counseling, and administering.

  • The Department of Justice is at the top of the federal prosecution hierarchy.

  • Three Justice Department offices affect the prosecutorial aspect of the criminal justice process: the offices of the solicitor general, the Department of Justice Criminal Division, and the U.S. attorneys in the federal courts.

  • Three types of prosecutors are typically found in state court systems: the state attorney general, the chief prosecutor, and local prosecutors.

  • The state prosecutor is the primary representative of the state in the courtroom.

  • In large jurisdictions, the prosecutor’s office may be divided into bureaus, special units, and programs that address specific issues within the local criminal justice system.

  • State court systems are decentralized, with prosecution responsibility distributed across state, county (or district), and local levels.

The Defense Attorney

  • The defense attorney is responsible for protecting the interests of the accused and ensuring that the prosecution has adequately proved the charges.

  • Although defense attorneys must provide the best defense possible for the defendant, the defense attorney often develops a working relationship with the group.

  • Each state has its own system to provide for the defense of indigent clients. These fall into three broad categories: assigned counsel, contract systems, and public defenders.

The Judge

  • The term “judge” encompasses a range of responsibilities from the local justice of the peace to a Supreme Court justice.

  • Judges act as a check and balance to the discretion of prosecutors, an impartial arbiter in the contest between law enforcement and defendants, and a decision maker in applying punishment or treatment of the guilty.

  • The duties and roles of judges include signing search warrants, informing defendants of charges, appointing counsel, setting bail, taking pleas, ruling on motions, participating in or ruling on plea bargains, presiding at trials, and sentencing.

  • The three methods of judicial selection are executive appointment, election, and merit selection (also called Missouri Bar Plan). Some states use a combination of these methods.

Defendants, Victims, and Witnesses

  • Because defendants, victims, and witnesses are unfamiliar with how the court works, they often find it alienating.

  • Many jurisdictions have established victim–witness assistance programs to encourage cooperation in criminal cases.

  • Courts have developed several systems to help ensure the defendant’s appearance: cash bond, property bond, release on recognizance (ROR), or bail agent.

Pretrial Release Decisions

  • The pretrial release decision is an important crossroads in the criminal justice system.

  • Systems to ensure that the defendant will appear after release include cash bond, property bond, release on recognizance, and bail agent.

  • If concerns about public safety or the defendant’s likelihood to show are pronounced, then bail may not be allowed.


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