Criminal Justice Process
Criminal Justice Process
Generally speaking, the concept of the legal system can often seem very complex, confusing, and intimidating. However, to assist in comprehending the system, the state of Kansas has defined a sequence of events in processing criminal cases where each action encompasses a specific function. Whether it is the police officer who investigates the crime, the prosecutor who must gather the facts for action, the defendant who must obtain a lawyer and prove their case, or the judge and jury who determine the fate of the offender; having a basic understanding of the law is imperative in protecting individual rights.
Within this paper I will discuss the Kansas state criminal justice process and the multifaceted decisions that ensure justice is provided to all. Although the Kansas criminal law process is disclosed, it still may be difficult for an individual to navigate through the system alone. Therefore, once a person is taken into custody, he/she should immediately seek counsel to assist in the legal process. The first step in the criminal process is the investigation by law enforcement before an arrest is made. Moreover, an investigation of a said crime may be initiated in many ways.
For instance, it could be as simple as an officer who witnesses a vehicle speeding or something that requires a more collective effort such as a 911 call from a bystander. An officer may speak to only one person or it may involve multiple witnesses being interviewed where evidence may be gathered over time. If an officer believes that there is enough evidence of a crime, he/she can try to obtain a search warrant. This process includes a judge who will review the information and approve/disapprove the warrant based on probable cause.
Probable cause, as it applies to a search, is the facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence is in a particular place (Wright, 2013). After law enforcement has conducted their investigation, a criminal arrest will transpire. A person may or may not be aware that they will be taken into custody, but in either situation, it is important for that individual to obtain the representation of an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible. An arrest is defined as a seizure of a person and/or deprivation of his/her personal liberty by a legal authority or under legal authority (Gale, 2002).
In Kansas, an officer of the law may arrest a person for the following reasons: a warrant commanding that person to be arrested; has probable cause to believe that a warrant for the person’s arrest has been issued in this state or in another jurisdiction for a felony committed therein; has probable cause to believe that the person is committing or has committed felony (KSA, 2009). No matter where or when an interrogation occurs, the person in custody (deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way), must be read their Miranda rights if the suspect’s answers are to be used as evidence at a trial (Merriam-Webster, 1996).
A Miranda warning is not required if a person is not in police custody; however, anything the person says can still be used at trial if the person is later charged with a crime. This exception most often happens when the police stop someone on the street to question him/her about a recent crime and the person blurts out a confession before the police have an opportunity to deliver the warning. Therefore, it is critical that a person in custody does not answer the police/detective’s questions without having a lawyer present. This will ensure the individual’s rights under the Fifth Amendment are protected and they do not make any self-incriminating statements.
Kansas divides crimes into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. A felony crime can be defined as a crime that results in incarceration of one year or more in jail or prison (Wright, 2013). The state of Kansas has four types of felony convictions: drug felonies, non-drug felonies, off grid felonies and non-grid felonies. Drug felonies are related to the possession, use, manufacture, and the sale of illegal drugs. Off grid felonies, which frequently have a life time sentence, are typically related to murder and certain child sex crimes. While, non grid felonies are usually related to domestic battery or felony driving under the influence.
Once the suspect is arrested, a defense attorney is assigned to the person if the individual cannot afford one. A defense attorney is a lawyer who advises, represents, and acts for the defendant in a legal proceeding or for the offender in post-conviction proceedings (Gale, 2002). A defense attorney appears with the defendant at the arraignment where the defendant will plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the defense attorney then represents his/her client during the various stages of the trial process.
During the pre-trail stage, the defense counsel’s investigation should begin its own inquiry by interviewing witnesses, obtaining police reports, and reviewing other documents. (Gale, 2002). Additionally, any exculpatory evidence that the prosecutor discovers which is helpful to the defendant must be given to the defense attorney. It is during this stage that the defense attorney assesses the strength of the prosecutor’s case and advises the client as to the possible outcomes. If it would be useful in the defense effort, the defense counsel could hire a private investigator in an effort to collect evidence in support of the case or to discredit elements of the prosecution’s case.
While the defense attorney is collecting evidence to help the client from being convicted, the prosecutor initiates his/her own effort on the criminal actions against the alleged person who has committed the offense. A prosecutor can be defined as a lawyer employed by the state who seeks to obtain a conviction in a court against the defendant (Gale, 2002). After the police investigators have filed the paper work for the arrest, the prosecutor will review the paper work and apply the appropriate Kansas laws to determine if the person that has been arrested should be formally charged with a crime. Unfortunately, this period can last a few days, weeks, or months.
The most serious crimes in Kansas, such has murder and terrorism, have no statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations are federal and state laws that set out time periods within which a certain type of civil or criminal action must be brought or the right to bring the action will be lost (Gale, 2002). This law is to ensure the defendant has a fair chance to rebut the claim. Since Kansas does not set a time period for murder and terrorism, this does not violate the due process of the Fourteenth Amendment. The prosecutor will continue to examine the files and he/she may contact the police and request that additional inquiries are conducted. During this time, it may be possible to convince the prosecutor not to file charges or to request a lesser charge.
After a charge is filed, the number of court appearances may vary depending on the type of case. A court appearance can be defined as the act of coming to court to defend or prosecute a case and to enter an appearance to register with a court that a defendant intends to defend an action (Black, 2007). “The first court appearance is known as an arraignment in the state of Kansas. An arraignment is a hearing before a court having jurisdiction in a criminal case. When a court arraigns a person, the identity of the defendant is established, and the defendant is informed of the charge and his or her constitutional and statutory rights. Bail can also be set at arraignment.
The defendant is required to enter a plea, which distinguishes an arraignment from a defendant’s first appearance, where all other matters may be raised” (Gale, 2002). The arraignment process in felony cases cannot take place unless the prosecutor has prepared a written set of charges. In the state of Kansas, the prosecutor is required to convene a grand jury before charging a defendant with a serious crime. After the suspect is convicted of the crime, a sentencing process is started. On July 1, 1993, the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Act was developed to assist in determining felony sentencing through a grid system.
For this reason, Kansas law uses the following two primary factors to determine the punishment of a convicted felon: the severity level of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. Sentencing is the penalty imposed by a court upon a person convicted of a crime. The types of sentences include capital punishment, imprisonment, fines, restitution, and probation (Gale, 2002). Since the 1980s, sentencing guidelines started utilizing a point system based on the criminal offense and the criminal history of the defendant. A higher number results in a more severe criminal sanction.
Additionally, judges have little or no discretion to depart from these guidelines (Gale, 2002). Thus, sentencing guidelines that Kansas has established provide practitioners in the criminal justice system with an overview of presumptive felony sentences. The juncture of the severity level of the crime of conviction and the offender’s criminal history category is the presumed sentence (KSA, 2012). Once a person is convicted of a felony, either by pleading guilty or being found guilty at trial, the judge will order a pre-sentence investigation and receive a report from the probation office.
This report will advise the judge of the severity level of the crime, which grid it is on, drug or non-drug, and the defendant’s criminal history. In Kansas, the sentencing grid is how the judge determines the sentencing of a felony conviction. Nevertheless, not all crimes will fit on the grid. Thus, the sentencing for those crimes is individually outlined by the legislature. The majority of the felony crimes in Kansas fall on the sentencing grid, where the criminal history and the severity level of the crime aid the judge in determining the sentence. Non-drug and drug are two grids on the sentencing range.
The non-drug grid contains ten severity levels of offenses that range from theft to rape and murder. A level one offense represents a significant transgression while a level ten represents the least serious of the crimes. The drug grid contains four levels of offenses encompassing possession, distribution, manufacturing and cultivation of controlled substances. Similar to the non-drug grid, a level one offense is a severe crime and a level four represents a minimum wrongdoing. After the judge or court reviews the drug or non drug grid, the next step is to look at the criminal history of the accused.
Criminal history in Kansas is classified as “A” through “I”, depending on a person’s past criminal history (KSA, 2012). A criminal history score of “A” is the highest criminal history score and would likely be assigned to a person with three or more personal felonies. A criminal history score of “I” is the lowest criminal history score and would be allocated to an individual with only one misdemeanor conviction or no criminal history. Within each grid box there are three numbers which represent months of imprisonment. These three numbers provide the judge or court with a range for sentencing. The sentencing judge or court then has the discretion to sentence within these parameters.
The middle number in the grid box is the average number that is intended to be the appropriate sentence time for a typical case. The upper and lower numbers should be used for cases involving aggravating or mitigating factors sufficient to warrant a departure. The sentencing judge or court may increase the length of a sentence up to double the duration within the grid box (KSA, 2012).
The judge or court may also depart downward to lower the duration of a presumptive sentence. Moreover, the judge or court can impose a dispositional departure by electing to implement a sentence of prison to probation or probation to prison. Once the criminal history and the severity level of the offense are determined, the grids will dictate the sentencing range and disposition for the judge or court.
For example, rape in Kansas is a severity level one felony. If the defendant has no prior criminal record, then the crime is punishable by 147, 155, or 165 months in prison. If the same crime was particularly cruel or violent, the judge may impose the aggravated sentence of 165 months in prison. A defendant with an “A” level criminal history who is convicted of a particularly brutal rape could face up to 653 months in prison. After the judge or court has reviewed the grid and all the files for the case, sentencing can be deliberated. By Kansas law, judges or the court must impose a sentence shown in the appropriate grid box unless substantial and compelling reasons exist to depart from the sentences.
The sentencing judge or court should consider all available alternatives in determining the appropriate sentence for each offender. The sentencing guidelines seek to establish equity among like offenders in similar case scenarios. Rehabilitative measures are still an integral part of the corrections process, and criminal justice professionals continue efforts to reestablish offenders within communities (KSA, 2012). The guidelines do not prohibit sentencing courts from departing from the prescribed sentence in atypical cases. The sentencing court is free to choose an appropriate sentence, or combination of sentences, for each case (KSA, 2012). In 2008, Kansas changed its sentencing guidelines by implementing a no downward dispositional departure for any crime of extreme sexual violence.
A downward durational departure can be allowed for any crime of extreme sexual violence to no less than fifty percent of the center of the grid range of the sentence for such crime. Does the Kansas judge or court have to follow the guidelines in the grid box? The answer is no. The judge can deviate from the presumptive range within the box; however, in order for him/her to do so, there must be a substantial and compelling reason. This means, a specific fact should either illustrate that this case is either worse than typical for this type of crime, justifying a longer sentence, or better than typical for this kind of offense, justifying a shorter sentence.
As long as the judge stays in the box, the sentence cannot be appealed. A conviction could be appealed, but not the sentence. Judges typically do not depart, either shorter or longer, unless both the prosecution and the defense agree that he/she should. In order for a judge to depart upward to a longer sentence than contained in the box, he/she must usually have a jury finding of the extraordinary fact justifying the longer sentence.
In Kansas, the legislature has designated convictions as presumptive probation, presumptive prison, and border box. If a defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to a presumptive probation offense, the legislature presumes that the defendant is entitled to a contract of probation.
The defendant, on the other hand, could serve the underlying sentence if he/she violates the terms and conditions of the probation contract. If a defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to a presumptive prison offense, the legislature presumes that the defendant is not entitled to a contract of probation and must serve the underlying sentence.
A defendant can avoid prison, only if, the court formally deviates from the sentencing guidelines by finding considerable and convincing reasons to grant probation. If a defendant is convicted of or pleads guilty to a border box offense, the legislature presumes that the defendant is not entitled to a contract of probation and must serve the underlying sentence. However, the court is allowed to grant probation at the request or agreement of the parties as long as the court is satisfied that a program is available to the defendant that will ensure community safety interests by promoting the defendant’s rehabilitation and reducing the likelihood of recidivism.
There are special rules which could deprive a defendant of his/her presumption of probation and in turn can allow the judge to sentence him/her to prison. An example would be if the crime occurred while the defendant was already on probation or on bond for another crime. These special rules must be taken into consideration when determining what a judge might do at the time of sentencing. In conclusion, Kansas has established a concrete criminal law process that can be directly correlated to its own state legislation. The system provides reasonable and comprehensible guidelines for all to follow in the service of justice.
The law is enforced to protect individuals; however, being aware of your fundamental rights is a personal responsibility. If you are stopped, questioned, arrested or searched by federal, state or local law enforcement officers, the most common approach should always be to ask for an attorney. Inevitably, the law is there to sustain the status quo, to protect property, vested rights, and established relationships. An ordered society cannot survive without some type of legal system, even if it is just one simple rule. In the end, the legal system is the only procedure which can guarantee that all human rights are respected.
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