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Law Enforcement

Essay by   •  March 20, 2011  •  802 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,100 Views

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Uniformed police officers are the most visible element of America's criminal justice system. Their numbers have grown exponentially over the past century and now stand at hundreds of thousands nationwide. Police expenses account for the largest segment of most municipal budgets and generally dwarf expenses for fire, trash, and sewer services. Neither casual observers nor learned authorities regard the sight of hundreds of armed, uniformed state agents on America's roads and street corners as anything peculiar let alone invalid or unconstitutional.

The modern police-driven model of law enforcement helps sustain a playing field that is fundamentally uneven for different players upon it. Modern police act as an army of assistants for state prosecutors and gather evidence solely with an eye toward the state's interests. Police seal off crime scenes from the purview of defense investigators, act as witnesses of convenience for the state in courts of law, and instigate a substantial amount of criminal activity under the guise of crime fighting. Additionally, police enforce social class norms and act as tools of empowerment for favored interest groups to the disadvantage of others. Police are also a political force that constantly lobbies for increased state power and decreased constitutional liberty for American citizens.

For decades before and after the Revolution, the adjudication of criminals in America was governed primarily by the rule of private prosecution: (1) victims of serious crimes approached a community grand jury, (2) the grand jury investigated the matter and issued an indictment only if it concluded that a crime should be charged, and (3) the victim himself or his representative (generally an attorney but sometimes a state attorney general) prosecuted the defendant before a petit jury of twelve men. Criminal actions were only a step away from civil actions Ð'-- the only material difference being that criminal claims ostensibly involved an interest of the public at large as well as the victim. Private prosecutors acted under authority of the people and in the name of the state but for their own vindication. The very term "prosecutor" meant criminal plaintiff and implied a private person. A government prosecutor was referred to as an attorney general and was a rare phenomenon in criminal cases at the time of the nations founding. When a private individual prosecuted an action in the name of the state, the attorney general was required to allow the prosecutor to use his name even if the attorney general himself did not approve of the action.

Private prosecution meant that criminal cases were for the most part limited by the need of crime victims for vindication. Crime victims held the keys to a potential defendant's fate and often negotiated the settlement of criminal cases. After a case was initiated in the name of the people, however, private prosecutors were prohibited from withdrawing the action pursuant to private agreement with the defendant. Court intervention was occasionally required to compel

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