Lately, the media has been bashing the criminal justice system—starting with cops’ behavior in the streets to the broken child protection system that doesn’t protect children. Is the system really this broken? I’ve worked for almost forty years as a prosecutor and Public Defender. Here are five reasons why the criminal justice system is better now:
- Juries are more representative of the community. When I started trying cases before juries, they were selected from property owners and driver’s license records. The result was juries of older, white people who generally lived in the suburbs. Over the years. the local government has worked hard to pick people from other records. The result has been jurors who are very diverse in all ways and more truly represent the community—which improves the criminal justice system.
- When I started, there was hardly any attention paid to the female victims of domestic abuse. Since then, the criminal justice system has developed new laws specifically aimed at punishing offenders and has also created many resources for the victims from victim/witness advocates to shelter protection and counseling for the victims. This is another reason why the criminal justice system in better now.
- The judges hearing cases were all older, male, and white with the exception of two white women. Today, every race is represented, women, men, and different religions. The more accurately represent the community.
- Child protection used to be a minor, back-wash area of the juvenile court. Parents didn’t even get lawyers if they couldn’t afford to hire their own. Today, the parents and even children over 10 get free lawyers and the number of child protection cases brought into the criminal justice system has sky-rocketed. The resources available for parents and children has expanded and has been successful in many cases to improve the criminal justice system.
- The quality of judges is high. Here’s another reason why the criminal justice system is better now. In Minnesota, almost all judges are selected by the governor after a lengthy vetting process by a state-wide judicial selections board. The result has been high quality candidates and little corruption.
When the media or people complain about the criminal justice system, there certainly are areas that could be improved. On the other hand, these reasons are why the criminal justice system is better now that it has been in years.
If you’ve been to court, what’s your experience been? What do you think?