Criminal Justice System: Examining Injustice

‘Do you think the Criminal Justice System lives up to the legitimacy of its name? The Criminal Justice System is the system of law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, persecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offenses (Dictionary).

Injustice Behind Bars

According to the Chicago Tribune, there are anywhere from 46-230 thousand innocent people in prison (Grisham 1). Throughout history, we see time and time again that everyone is not treated equally. We live in a world where at times, the color of our skin determines our lives or our potential. This system needs to find a way to balance protecting the innocent that are suspected to be guilty and punishing those who are guilty. The Criminal Justice System is unjust because race and class play a role in accusations, arrests, and convictions.

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Role of Race in the Equation

Race is one of many components that play a big role in the Criminal Justice System. One example is the case of Kevin Cooper. Cooper was a twenty-two-year-old man who was convicted of a quadruple murder in 1983. Minimal evidence was found at the scene, only a single drop of blood and a bloody shoe print. At Cooper’s trial,  his attorneys argued that “the San Bernardino County (SBC) Sheriff’s Department has destroyed or suppressed evidence suggesting the attackers were three white men, including a convicted contract killer.” Cooper’s DNA was

then found on a bloody shirt near the home, as well as two cigarette butts found inside the family’s car. Later tests showed that Cooper’s blood contained a large amount of EDTA, which is a chemical used to preserve blood samples in police labs. This led Cooper’s attorney to argue that Kevin had been framed, but the SBC denied it (Tchekmedyian 1). Though there is concrete evidence that Cooper did not commit the crime, like the only eye witness stating that Cooper was not the killer, he has been in prison for almost 40 years. African-American

men and women do not get fair treatment when it comes to convictions and sentencing. A study from the Michigan State University College of Law showed that African American prisoners are almost 50% more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of Murder (“African Americans…”). With this evidence, we see that race does, in fact, play a role in convictions.

Unveiling Racial Profiling and Bias

Racial profiling and racial bias have both been found to influence the behavior of police. Racial profiling is the use of race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of an offense (Dictionary). Racial bias is the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual’s understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner (Dictionary). Examples of this are seen in the many fatal interactions between police officers and people of color. Take Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald. All three of these young men were African-Americans that were killed during fatal interactions with those who were sworn to serve and protect. We can take into account that in crime shows and the news, investigations into police who’ve killed people of color rarely favor the victim. Racial profiling is dangerous because it could cause an assumption that people of color are more dangerous than those who are Caucasian. The reality is anyone could be dangerous. Take Nikolas Cruz, for example; in February 14th, 2018, nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed seventeen people in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (Smith 14). Cruz is a white male, and he has the power to kill seventeen people and injure over a dozen more. Anyone can be dangerous or cause harm to others despite their color, religion,

age, or gender.

Disparities in the Death Penalty

According to the 2018 NAACP Death Penalty Fact Sheet, “13% of the population is black, yet they make up 42% of death row inmates and 35% of those who have been executed on death row…Research further showed that almost 50% of white criminals were able to have their sentences lessened from death through plea bargaining.”


  1. Gov. Jerry Brown orders new tests in quadruple-murder case of death row inmate Kevin Cooper. A.Tchekmedyian, Staff Writer. 2018. Los Angeles Times
  2. Criminal Justice Definition & Meaning.
  3. “Did this man die…for this man’s crime”. Chicago Tribune (2006)
  4. NAACP. (2018). NAACP Death Penalty Fact Sheet.

Criminal Justice Career Goals: Navigating The Path


Criminal law comprises a set of rules that establish the punishment for various types of crimes. In civil law, individuals engage in disputes over their right and wrong, whereas in criminal law, the prosecution argues whether governmental authorities should punish an individual for a particular act. Criminal law plays an essential role in society, protecting the rights of individuals, their possessions, and civil liberties. For this reason, an expert in criminal law is usually a highly esteemed member of the community able to work within the parameters set by the justice system. A career in criminal law brings a combination of challenge and excitement. It can be demanding and sometimes even dangerous, but there are numerous advantages to choosing this path. Among these are a broad selection of career opportunities, rewarding compensation and benefits packages, and the personal fulfillment of being directly involved in shaping a better world. If you plan to become a criminal law expert, attending law school is an important step. When selecting a school, several factors can influence the decision, such as location, academic curricula, type of courses provided (on-campus or hybrid), and the accreditation the institution holds.


Once enrolled in a particular criminal law program, your studies might begin with exploring the basics of criminal law, including homicide and sexual assault. You may also examine the elements needed for prosecution, learning how to detect, collect, and classify them. Typically, programs include numerous courses that deal with communication and how to effectively work with people. Such skills are essential in this field. To successfully collaborate with victims, criminals, defendants, or their family members, requires excellent interpersonal abilities. At the same time, it’s not mandatory to earn a B.A. Before entering a law school, several majors in related fields may be helpful for criminal law. Political science, psychology, criminal justice, history, philosophy, and economics are among the fields considered a plus and may help you in your future career as a criminal lawyer.

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Since there is no undergraduate law degree in the U.S., the most important professional law degree is the Juris Doctor (J.D.), which is earned at law school. This degree makes you eligible to enter the bar and become a fully-fledged criminal lawyer. Established towards the end of the 19th century to improve the training of law professionals, the J.D. The program has remained almost unchanged for more than 100 years. During the course, participants study substantive law and explore various professional applications. Interestingly, many schools do not require students to write a mandatory final thesis to earn the degree. Vast written projects are sometimes needed, but these are intermediate educational milestones rather than final dissertations.

If you study full-time, earning the J.D. usually requires three or more academic years. Once you complete your training, no apprenticeship is necessary before entering the bar exam. While some parts of the J.D. curricula can be studied online, all programs require at least some on-campus engagement. Choosing a hybrid format may provide some flexibility to juggle your studies with other competing priorities. If you are wondering what the curriculum might look like at various law schools, most of them have a set of mandatory courses, which include civil procedure, model penal code, restatement of property, and constitutional law. Besides these, you will also study legal research and writing, commercial code, and restatement of contracts.


After earning your J.D., it is time to consider your next career steps. You can either pass the bar exam and begin work as a criminal lawyer or advance your studies with a postdoctoral degree in the field. You can become, for instance, a doctor of juridical science.

To be admitted into the bar, most U.S. jurisdictions require applicants to pass the bar examination. Various territories and states use agencies that report to the state supreme courts to run these exams. As you might expect, this test is extremely difficult and takes place over 2 or 3 days.

The so-called uniform bar examination (UBE) is standardized and includes three different components. This test comprises 200 multiple-choice questions related to 7 critical law areas. These include criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, federal rules of civil procedure, contracts, real property, federal rules of evidence, and torts. The MEE includes six essay questions, each with a duration of 30 minutes, which assess a candidate’s ability to analyze, understand, and communicate in writing different legal issues. Besides the topics covered in the MBE test, the MEE includes questions on commercial and business law, estates and probate law, conflicts of law, and even family law. Situated in a fictional state (Franklin), the MPT is a closed-universe exam.

After receiving a case file and a library that includes the required substantive law, the candidate must perform a typical lawyering task.

One way to broaden your professional experience during law school is to enter a judicial clerkship. Regardless of the area you plan to practice in, there are numerous advantages to completing a clerkship. You gain invaluable, hands-on experience that may give you a competitive advantage if you seek scholarships, fellowships, or internships after graduation. Most judges are typically happy to act as mentors and share their wealth of know-how and judiciary expertise with you. It is a chance to witness a broad array of cases and explore various procedural or substantive law issues, taking your general law knowledge to the next level, as well as that you get to see numerous lawyers at work, some more gifted than others, and understand how they leverage various techniques and adapt their strategies on a case-by-case basis.


Another effective way to gain more experience and develop your tactical and strategic planning skills is to take criminal trial advocacy courses. Such courses give you a glimpse into what’s really going on in a trial and get you familiar with stepping into courtrooms. Criminal trial advocacy teaches you how to represent your clients effectively. Criminal trial advocacy teaches you how to represent your clients effectively. Plus, it hones secondary skills, such as properly selecting jurors, examining witnesses, delivering closing arguments, and finding strategic ways to lead events toward your planned outcome. You can explore generic persuasion principles, learn how to assure the jurors that your claims are valid, and even participate in mock trials, which represent a hugely valuable exercise in oral advocacy.

There are no specific licensure requirements for criminal attorneys besides successfully passing the bar exam in the state where you plan to practice. Nevertheless, as a criminal lawyer, there are possibilities to earn different board certifications. The American Bar Association (ABA) founded the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC) to improve the overall quality of trial advocacy. Criminal lawyers who are NBLSC-certified remain active board members for up to 5 years and have to meet several reporting requirements annually.


There are also many questions commonly asked about the journey through law school, especially those pertaining to proper education and where to start along the path to your future career.

Why choose an accredited law school or program?

It is crucial to choose an educational institution that’s fully accredited, or that offers accredited law programs in criminal law. A degree from an accredited program proves that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to start practicing right away. ABA-approved and accredited programs and institutions that confer the J.D. degree. In most U.S. states, you need a law degree from an accredited school to enter the bar. Accredited schools also tend to lead to better employment opportunities for graduates than unaccredited ones.

What does a career in criminal law look like?

Once you have earned your J.D. and successfully passed the bar examination, you might find yourself wondering what kind of career you are most suited to. If criminal law is the field that most interests you, it can be helpful to explore several possibilities and career paths before assuming a specific role. You might, for example, decide to become a criminal defense lawyer or a prosecuting attorney. No matter which of these you choose, you need to pass the bar exam to start work in your preferred state. The main difference between these two roles is that the criminal defense lawyer serves the interests of the person charged with a particular crime, whilst the prosecuting attorney works for the federal government or the state.

What are the skills a successful criminal lawyer needs?

Taking on the challenging career of a criminal lawyer requires numerous skills and abilities. Some of these will help you earn your law degrees; others may prove helpful once you start working. Some of the vital skills and critical competencies that successful criminal lawyers bring to the table include legal experience and in-depth knowledge; a thorough understanding of local, state, or federal rules and regulations will help you efficiently navigate criminal justice. It is also important to know the ins and outs of evidentiary laws or court procedures and have strong analytical skills. Creative thinking and excellent analytical skills can help you develop the right legal strategy to tackle even the most complex cases.


When building your clients case and putting together a strong defense, research skills, and investigative abilities play a key part. Deductive skills, coupled with logic and astute reasoning, can help to organize and validate your strategy.


To successfully convince a judge or a jury of the legitimacy of your case, you need to hone your written and oral advocacy skills. Arguing a clients corner can be challenging, so mastering body language and learning how to become more persuasive can be important.


Exceptional interpersonal skills and communication abilities are crucial in building a solid client-lawyer relationship that is based on understanding and trust.


Another useful skill is the ability to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. Take, for instance, eyewitness testimonies. Widely considered to be among the most precise types of evidence, the reality is often the opposite. Memory distortions happen often, and unconscious bias plays a role. Thus, relying solely on eyewitness memories can lead to mistakes and misidentifications.


The district attorney, also known as prosecuting attorney, is the primary law enforcement officer and prosecutor in a particular county. They lead other state prosecutors and handle the most important local trials. To become a criminal prosecutor, you need a J.D. and to pass the bar examination in your state. Clerkships and internships can support this professional goal. Prosecutors represent the state against the accused. They initiate and oversee legal proceedings concerning individuals charged with various crimes. Prosecutors usually play an active role in investigations by collecting pertinent information or collaborating directly with the police. As a prosecuting attorney, you commonly deal with witnesses that were involved in a particular crime. Prosecuting attorneys may find themselves working more than 40 hours per week. They frequently appear before the courts, which is often where they spend the majority of their time. In addition, they conduct research and prepare or review documents and evidence.

The work of a prosecuting attorney is mentally challenging and involves long hours spent in front of computers and courts. Therefore, it is important that the financial compensation adequately reflects this. In 2020, the median salary for lawyers, including prosecuting attorneys, criminal lawyers, and other similar roles, was $126,930.


Once you have earned your J.D., entered the state bar, and developed a keen interest in criminal law, you may also want to consider a career as a criminal defense attorney. Besides researching facts and conducting investigations to serve your clients, these attorneys are called upon to negotiate with the prosecutors and adversaries in the courtroom. The aim is to establish favorable deals for clients, including reduced sentences, charges, or bail.

A criminal defense attorney is a law expert who can adequately evaluate their clients chances of winning a trial and who is able to minimize the sentence and negotiate a good plea deal. In contrast, criminal defense lawyers play an active part in defending the accused, although their role is limited to the courtroom.


There is the option of becoming either a private or a public criminal defense attorney. Public defenders are appointed by the court to represent incriminated citizens. They typically earn less than private criminal defense attorneys and have higher work volumes. Private attorneys are hired directly by clients to represent them in the courts. Those capable of hiring an attorney usually have access to more data and defense possibilities. There are also significant differences between state and federal defense attorneys. If someone has been arrested by a federal officer an FBI agent, for instance, a federal defense attorney should step in for his defense. State defense attorneys defend clients accused or arrested by state or local police officers. Criminal lawyers, also known as criminal defense lawyers and public defenders, work to defend individuals, organizations, and entities that have been charged with a crime. Criminal lawyers handle a diverse spectrum of criminal cases, ranging from domestic violence crimes, sex crimes, violent crimes, and drug crimes to driving under the influence (DUI), theft, embezzlement, and fraud.


Criminal lawyers represent defendants facing criminal charges in state, federal, and appellate courts. Their scope of practice includes bail bond hearings, plea bargains, trials, revocation hearings (parole or probation), appeals, and post-conviction remedies. As part of the lawyer’s job functions, a criminal lawyer will: Investigate the case and interview witnesses, research case law, statutes, crimes codes, and procedural law, build a defense and develop a case strategy, negotiate with the prosecution to plea bargain to lesser charges, and as important court responsibilities of the lawyer, draft, file and argue motions such as motions to dismiss and motions to suppress, advocate for the defendant at trial, which means to defend your client, and draft, file and argue appeals for court dates and trials.


Criminal lawyer salaries vary depending on the size and scope of the practice, the clientele the firm serves, and the geographic location of the firm. Public defender and non-profit salaries are usually modest (the $30,000 to $50,000 range is common). Criminal lawyers employed in law firms generally earn the highest salaries; experienced criminal attorneys can earn well into the six figures. The highest-paid criminal lawyers are often those that represent high-profile, wealthy defendants in high-stakes cases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the salary range for all attorneys, including criminal attorneys, is as follows: Median Annual Salary: $120,910 ($58.13 /hour), Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $208,000 ($100/hour), and finally, Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $58,220 ($27.99/hour). Source of Information: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Most criminal lawyers work in private practice or in a solo firm. Some work for non-profit agencies or for the government as public defenders. Criminal lawyers often work long, irregular hours. They frequently meet with clients outside their office at the courthouse, prisons, hospitals, and other venues. Most criminal lawyers maintain a local practice. However, for criminal attorneys with a national practice, frequent travel is required. Most attorneys work full-time hours, and many work over 40 hours each week. Attorneys working either in large firms or in private practice often work extra hours, preparing and reviewing documents and conducting research.


The education and other requirements to practice as a criminal attorney are as follows: Education: Like all lawyers, criminal lawyers must first complete a bachelor’s degree, then obtain a law degree. The two degrees typically take a total of seven years to complete. License: Criminals attorneys must pass the bar examination in the state in which they intend to practice. Certification: Some criminal lawyers earn board certification from the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC). The NBLSC is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Bar Association to provide board certification for attorneys and is an outgrowth of the National Board of Trial Advocacy.


Criminal lawyers must possess a variety of additional skills to succeed in their jobs, including the following: Writing and speaking skills: Excellent oral and written advocacy skills in order to argue a client’s case before a judge and persuade a jury. Research and investigative skills: Investigative and research skills are also important in building a client’s case and establishing a strong defense. Creative and analytical skills: Strong creative thinking and analytical skills to develop a legal strategy, analyze case law and litigate complex cases. Legal knowledge and experience: In-depth understanding of state, federal and local rules, court procedures, evidentiary laws, and local judges to navigate the criminal justice system efficiently and competently. Interpersonal skills:

Excellent interpersonal skills are necessary to build a strong client-attorney relationship. Criminal defendants are a finicky group who sometimes go through many lawyers before settling on one they like. Therefore, the ability to attract and retain clients is essential to a thriving criminal defense practice.


Criminal law is a growing practice niche. As crime rates spiral upward and criminal laws change, the number of people sentenced to prison has risen nearly threefold over the past 30 years. Crime rates have increased, and prison populations are exploding across the country. As new criminal laws are codified, and more Americans are charged under state and federal laws, the need for criminal lawyers to defend the accused will also rise. According to the BLS, the growth in jobs for all attorneys, including criminal attorneys, from 2016-2026 relative to other occupations and industries is 8%. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.Â

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