Modern criminal trials in the United States comprise established legal procedures that have been evolving for centuries. Any criminal procedure complies with the set of rules that dictate how proceedings are organized. It is through these rules that the government enforces substantive criminal law. The types of misconduct that can be classified as crimes are found in criminal codes created by municipalities, states, and the federal government. The purpose of this paper is to define the criminal process and its stages, explain the role of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments, and provide a critical commentary regarding the subject matter.
The Criminal Process
Criminal procedure is a process in the criminal law in which a decision determining the rights and responsibilities of all parties is made considering evidence and argumentation. The nature of criminal procedure varies from country to country; however, generally, the process starts with a criminal charge and ends with the conviction or the acquittal of the defendant. Like in many other countries, in the United States, there is a clear distinction between civil and criminal procedures. In Anglo-American criminal law, the two parties of the criminal process are known as the prosecution and the defendant.
The Stages of the Criminal Process
The criminal process conducted to completion typically involves the following steps. Prior to trial, the defense and the prosecution make requests, also known as motions “in limine,” to bring in or exclude certain pieces of evidence. The trial starts with the opening statements from the prosecution and, then, the defense. Each side recapitulates the case from its own standpoint and points out what they are seeking to prove. Taking place one after the other, both prosecution case-in-chief and defense case-in-chief include direct examination of respective witnesses which can be followed by cross-examinations. What follows the defense resting its case is the prosecution’s rebuttal of the other side’s points. The two parties present their closing arguments, after which, provided the prosecution’s case was convincing, the judge sentences the defendant.
Amendments of the US Constitution Affecting the Criminal Process
The criminal process is influenced by constitutional law and, in particular, by certain Amendments to the US Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits unlawful searches and seizures by the police unless there is a search warrant. If it is discovered that evidence was collected in an unlawful manner, the defendant has the right to request a motion to suppress the said evidence. The fifth and Six Amendments set safeguards to prevent people from self-incriminating themselves, give them the right to confront their accusers in court, and prohibit charging a person with the same offense more than once. In accordance with the Eighth Amendment, American citizens cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines. Furthermore, it is the Eighth Amendment that sets limits on bail amounts.
The US criminal law system is a mature system that operates on a pre-defined set of rules. However, while reasonable on paper, many procedures are imperfect in practice. For instance, criminal law prescribes non-discriminatory selection of juries, which is not always implemented when the decision-making parties are biased. Similarly, there are clear rules regarding the admission and exclusion of evidence. Yet, the US criminal law system has seen cases when the final decision depended on a dubious piece of evidence or relied on forensics using imprecise methods.