Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 12: Criminal Justice Process: The Investigation

Chapter Overviews

The criminal justice process includes everything that happens to a person from the moment of arrest, through prosecution and conviction, to release from jail or prison. There are separate state and federal criminal justice systems.

Arrest An arrest takes place when a person suspected of a crime is taken into custody. The police may have an arrest warrant, which shows that a judge agrees there is probable cause for the arrest. To show probable cause, there must be some facts that connect the person to the crime. A police officer may use as much physical force as is reasonably necessary to make an arrest. However a police officer who uses too much force or violates a citizen's rights can be sued under the federal Civil Rights Act.

A police officer does not need probable cause to stop and question an individual on the street. However, the officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is involved in criminal activity. The reasonable suspicion standard does not require as much evidence as probable cause. Therefore, it is easier for police to stop and question a person than it is to arrest a person.

Search and Seizure The Fourth Amendment entitles each individual to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and sets forth conditions under which search warrants may be issued. In evaluating Fourth Amendment cases, the courts seek to balance the government's need to gather evidence against an individual's right to expect privacy. Traditionally, courts have found searches and seizures of private homes reasonable only when authorized by a valid search warrant. A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge who agrees that the police have probable cause to conduct a search of a particular person or place. However, there are many circumstances in which searches may be conducted without a warrant. Even so, these searches must be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. If a court finds that evidence was collected as the result of an unlawful search, the evidence cannot be used against the defendant at trial.

Interrogations and Confessions In situations in which a defendant is in custody and the police want to interrogate the person, the U.S. Constitution requires that the defendant first be given a warning of his or her right to an attorney and right to be free from self-incrimination. These warnings are often called Miranda warnings.

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