Judicial Decisions and Implications on Criminal Justice, Essay Example

The Criminal Justice system, and specifically law enforcement, have a very large responsibility when it comes to fulfilling their role of getting offenders of the law off streets and into the penal system where they can be punished and rehabilitated. In addition, law enforcement can be held to an even higher level of scrutiny simply due to the nature of their jobs. There are very strict procedures in order to ensure the rights of the accused, found in the Fifth Amendment, are preserved–in addition to the rights given to the people outlining searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment. However, this job can become difficult, in-depth, and full of necessary procedures in order to make sure the case cannot be scrutinized–or lends itself to the least amount of scrutiny–when going to the actual trial.

In fact, in many cases the presentation can depend on different and open-ended Constitutional interpretations Judge by Judge. There are also legislative hurdles that law enforcement agents must be mindful of in order to preserve the prior decisions in the American court system, or precedent cases. The American judicial system has a very big part in dictating the American criminal justice system by placing protections for the accused imbedded in the Constitution that absolutely must be preserved by law enforcement–as well as procedures in which they must follow due to prior court cases and decisions–in addition to the different Constitutional interpretations in play constantly, varying by judge to judge like a pendulum–making many valid arguments on both sides.

There lies an opposition that would argue against this idea for many different reasons. In the American political tradition, the Legislature makes laws, the Judicial System reviews them, and subsequently the Executive–or its extensions–enforces those laws. Such is the separation of powers written into the framework of the Constitution, placed to ensure no one branch became too powerful. In addition, the protections found under the 4th and 5th Amendments must be maintained. There are many factors that can get in the way of this system, however, rendering the judicial ideal powerless and tainted.

Some of these ideas do indeed have merit to them, and examples can be found in history to prove as such. Perhaps the earliest example in American history of the Judicial System being rendered essentially useless is during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson. Known as a large supporter of states rights over Federalism, Jackson went so far as to publically challenge the Court System on an issue that he differed in opinion. In 1831, in the case of Worcestor v. Georgia, the Supreme Court affirmed that the State of Georgia did not have the right to govern interaction between Native Americans and citizens of the state (Oyez, 2013). President Jackson is reported to have said something to the effect of, the courts have given their decision, and so let them enforce it.  In actuality this is not the correct way the Justice System was set-up to work–however it also left the door open for Jackson to do what he did. There was virtually no oversight for the Commander-in-Chief other than impeachment–used sparsely, and frankly not when it should have been.

These harsh words used by Andrew Jackson to describe John Marshall’s decision were a direct reaction to the power Marshall himself had asserted in previous decisions. Marshall had taken the power of Judicial Review himself–being the first Supreme Court Chief Justice. Jackson saw his Presidential powers elite to any powers the Court maintained, and proved it by challenging Marshall to enforce his own decision. Naturally there is no military wing of the Supreme Court, making Marshall’s literal enforcement laughable and impossible. This is one of the main arguments against the relevancy of judicial decisions in criminal justice–there is no empirical way to actually enforce their own decisions.

The first Ten Amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, outlines civil liberties afforded to all Americans, with its own Amendment regarding the rights of the accused. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments can be interpreted in vastly different ways by the Supreme Court, more recently allowing for more liberties for law enforcement.

Looking contemporarily, it is true that warrantless wiretaps are unconstitutional, however when presented to the Supreme Court, this has not been the case–upholding law enforcement’s right to wiretap under certain circumstances that are not clearly outlined. An originalist would see this as inherently unconstitutional–the 4th Amendment clearly protects a citizen against “warrantless search and seizure”. However, things have evolved dramatically since the reign of George W. Bush and the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The recent whistle blowing by NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden affirmed the extent of American secret intelligence–and truly the extent to which the Federal Government has been trampling all over the Fourth Amendment.

The Patriot Act, eventually struck down, allowed for digital wiretaps on virtually anyone in America. This is a post-911 United States, where the fear of the masses has allowed for infringements on civil liberties in certain circumstances. This is outlined in no better place than in the recent events taking place on a global scale due to the fallout left by former-NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden. Before eventually being granted asylum in Russia, Snowden sent the United States on a global manhunt to catch the man who leaked so much of United States intelligence to the general public. He exposed the extent to which the United States had the capability to spy on virtually anyone, at any time, and did so very frequently. Even governments of other countries, including allies, were not spared from the list of places and people the United States government was spying on.

These examples make the opposing argument very strong–it is actually very clear how little influence the Courts can actually have. Although President Jackson’s comment seems archaic now, it is perhaps more relevant than we would like to admit. This is a very complicating issue–very often decided along partisan lines, which is contrary to the ideals of a Justice. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the 2000 Presidential Election.

Although the Supreme Court leans towards the right anyway, there are some originalists on the Court that should by their beliefs disagree with these wiretaps–however they vote along the party lines they seek to appease. The politically affiliated judge adds another dimension to the question of the relevance of the Court. A good example would be the Election of 2000, when Al Gore’s presidency was stolen by the Supreme Court, and handed to Bush. As a rule, The Supreme Court is not supposed to decide on what is defined as a “political question”. If the decision directly affects the results of an election, it is clearly a political question. However, the Court chose to take the case, and place their fellow Republican George Bush in office.

This, however, does not mean the system is broken by any means. Though there were many opposing arguments presented, that does not mean the system is broken. It was not even a lifetime ago the Court made such landmark decisions as Brown v. Board of Education reversing the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that asserted “separate but equal” in the African-American community. There are more contemporary examples of the courts’ relevance in real life–contrary to the opposition.

Simply looking at the Joseph Goldstein, as well as the Reuter’s articles, they revolve around New York City’s controversial “stop and frisk” law that allowed for unreasonable searches and seizures based on nothing besides law enforcement intuition. The entire stop and frisk dilemma outlines the main ideals of this thesis perfectly, outlining both the affirmative and opposing arguments perfectly a law was enacted to stop a certain type of crime, and the law was abused. The law then went in front of a judge who agreed on its abuse, and used Judicial Review to strike it down. This is a perfect and unrivaled metaphor for the impact the judicial system can have on law enforcement–most police officers, as well as the Mayor and the Police commissioner disagree with the Federal Judge’s decision–but that does not by any stretch of the imagination imply that they do not still have to follow her words to a tee, preserving the American Criminal Justice System. Once a judge strikes down a law or previous decision, in the adversarial United States Court system, that law or decision becomes void.

Although there is an argument for both sides for the modern day relevance of the Court’s relevance in the larger atmosphere, it seems that on a more localized level the Courts become more enforceable.


Goldstein, Joseph. “Judge Rejects New York’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy.” Nytimes.com. N.p., 12 Aug. 2013. Web.

“Judge Names Research Group Chief to Help Reform New York Police ‘Stop and Frisk’ Policy.” NYtimes.com. Reuters, 04 Sept. 2013. Web.

“Fifth Amendment.” LII. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fifth_amendment>.

“Fourth Amendment.” LII. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment>.

“Theories of Constitutional Interpretation.” Theories of Constitutional Interpretation. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2013.  <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/interp.html>.

WORCESTER v. GEORGIA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 12 September 2013. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1832/1832_2>.