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Inside the Criminal Justice System: Who Does What?

Roles and Responsibilities Within Criminal Courts

If you haven’t experienced the criminal justice system before, you likely don’t have a clear idea of who does what in the criminal courts. This is a good thing, as it indicates you have not had to suffer criminal accusations or convictions. But if you were caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, you will experience rude awakenings within the criminal justice system.

To alleviate the stress you may feel as you navigate the daunting criminal courts, it will benefit you to learn the main entities you will likely encounter throughout the process. When choosing your criminal defense attorney, we advise you to retain a lawyer who is deeply knowledgeable on the roles and responsibilities of every court official. You can enjoy greater peace of mind by knowing who you will come across before, during and after your case, therefore you should keep the following information in mind:

Law enforcement: Deemed the "first responders" to most crimes, police officers play a primary role in providing immediate intervention and assistance to victims of crime. Police officers work to protect life and property, prevent crime and apprehend offenders.

Prosecution: When the police investigate a crime and arrest a suspect, the case goes to a prosecutor, whose role is to successfully prosecute criminal cases. However, prosecutors have limited resources and overwhelming workloads, which encourages them to disregard many cases. As a result, defendants can wait months and even years to go to trial for their criminal charges.

Defense counsel: A lawyer is a professional representative who is a critical component of a suspect’s defense. The defense counsel functions to:

  • Defend a client’s constitutional rights.
  • Independently investigate a case to identify facts not otherwise presented by the prosecution, such as police misconduct, faulty crime lab analyses and inconsistent witness testimonies.
  • Prepare the defendant for trial, prepare witnesses that may be called by the defense and/or prepare to cross-examine witnesses brought by the prosecution.
  • Object the prosecution’s evidence.
  • Introduce evidence that challenges the prosecution’s case and makes their burden of proof more difficult to reach.

Judiciary: Also known as a judge, the judiciary is a neutral entity that oversees a criminal case and must fairly balance and protect the rights of all parties in criminal prosecutions.

Probation officials: Probation is often a condition of a plea bargain or a sentence administered by a judge. Probationers must submit to community supervision by a probation officer and may be subjected to several conditions of probation. If probationers violate any condition of their sentence, their probation may get revoked and thus, they may get incarcerated.

Institutional corrections: When convicted offenders are sentenced to imprisonment, the State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons is responsible for their supervision, including housing offenders, implementing and monitoring work, offering educational and treatment activities to inmates and organizing inmates’ release with parole officials.

Parole officials: Parole is the supervised release of prisoners to the community that helps released prisoners reintegrate back into their communities. The parole agent is responsible for ensuring that offenders follow the rules of their parole.

The information above is not comprehensive of all the roles and respective responsibilities within the criminal justice system, which is why we invite you to contact our firm at (707) 418-5352 to get your questions answered by our experienced Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney. We look forward to hearing from you!