The reforms I suggested in Criminal Justice Reformed offer the possibilities of more effective and fiscally prudent law enforcement practices and clearly defined areas of responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal behavior. Those reforms, while worthwhile in and of themselves, are not enough to reduce the criminal element in society. To better the chances of success in the protection of the citizenry, it is imperative that our system for trying suspects is based upon relevant and factual information acquired through scientific examination, complete investigations, and with the guiding hand of common sense.

With the establishment of the three-tiered enforcement system, we will have created three different levels of offenses. As such, it is appropriate for each level (Federal, State, and Local) to maintain it’s own judicial system. That does not mean that each level needs to operate by different procedures or be bound by different basic principles, but rather that each tier be responsible for trying those offenders who fall within its jurisdiction. As with the combined Justice buildings, Federal and State criminal courts could operate out of a single court complex, while the local courts could preside in multiple local locations. Again, this consolidation of physical locations combined with a central resource and depository center would result in lower costs and improved efficiency.

The Constitution describes many protections for us, as citizens, if we are suspected of having committed a crime. We are protected from police searches without a legal warrant; we are protected from prosecution without a legal indictment; we can not be tried twice for the same crime if we are found not guilty in the initial trial; we can not be compelled to testify against ourselves; we have the right to a speedy trial; and we can not be fined excessive fines or bail, or be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments. The Constitution provides for the protection of the accused and convicted, yet it remains curiously silent about the rights of society in relation to the rights of the convicted. The right of society to be safe from criminal individuals should be greater than the rights of a convicted offender. This is where the system begins to break down.

Rather than be the final stop in the search for truth, our courts are often anything but. Instead, they have become a place of obfuscation, where the truth often runs second fiddle to the games and guiles of the attorneys and judges who seek to increase their reputations rather than protect the public and who engorge their wallets through endless litigation. Evidence that is relevant to a case if often excluded, while inconceivable defense theories are thrown about as facts. Defendants are portrayed as victims of society rather than as individuals responsible for their own actions and procedural errors can convict an innocent man or set a guilty man free. Too often, trials turn on twists of emotion instead of factual evidence.

Prior to taking any case to trial, defendants should be given an opportunity to view the evidence against them and to present their side of the story in what would amount to a short mini-trial. Many suspects, once confronted with an abundance of actual evidence, will admit to their guilt. These individuals should be immediately taken into court for sentencing procedures. Designated courts at each level would have this as their primary task. This would allow for other cases to move more quickly through the system. For those cases where the suspect denies guilt, certain rules and procedures could allow for trials to move more quickly and factually through the courts.

First, juries should be seated randomly, with the least amount of pre-examination possible, so that attorneys on either side can’t “stack the deck” in their favor. To achieve this, jury service should be nearly impossible to shirk, with illness of a juror or their family member, unavoidable, verifiable travel commitments, or severe financial hardship being among the only reasons for postponing a juror’s service. Jurors should not be asked questions about moral beliefs or leanings, because like it or not, we all have them to one degree or another, and if a jury is to made up of common citizens, then pretty much anyone can do the job. Finally, juries should be required to determine only the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The punishments for most crimes should be posted with the laws themselves, and again when the charges are brought forth. This would allow for jurors to focus more on the evidence at hand without having to worry about how to sentence a person they may find guilty.

With recent leaps in forensic technology, there are many more tools available today for determining probable guilt or innocence of a defendant. Based on sound scientific principles, prosecutors are now able to identify DNA evidence at many of the most violent crime scenes. They have the ability to reconstruct crimes to determine what took place. The prevalence of surveillance cameras catch many criminals in the act of committing a crime. Financial trails can be traced, fingerprints can be identified, and weapons can be tested and matched to violent acts. All of these techniques, when used properly, can help to confirm a defendant’s innocence or guilt. Our reorganization of the investigative arm of criminal justice would help to ensure that these tools would be used in a consistent manner and that their findings would be accurate. If prosecutors can provide several examples of forensic evidence that can be verified and irrefutably bind a defendant to a crime, then this evidence should be accepted as factual and not be rebutted as voodoo science. This acceptance would end the need for “expert witnesses” who appear at a high cost to both the defendant and the public, but who serve to confuse juries by challenging accepted science.

If forensic evidence should be accepted as fact, as described above, then eye-witness testimony, unrecorded conversations, individual perceptions, and investigative suppositions should be introduced not as fact, but as helpful, though not necessarily accurate information that helps to build motive and means. Such circumstantial evidence is the common sense that explains the existence of the forensic evidence. It is with this evidence that defense arguments can and should be directed. It is in this area of testimony that a defense lawyer can foment the most uncertainty in the minds of jurors. Reasonable alternative explanations should be given whatever value they deserve when compared to the life experiences of the jurors and any relevant information about the defendant’s normal activities.

The trial system could be further streamlined by reducing the amount of backroom sparring that occurs and often prolongs a trial. While often done by the defense, prosecutors are known to engage in these tactics as well. Much of these arguments concern the admissibility of evidence. By adopting the rules of factual evidence and subjective evidence outlined above, such discussions could be greatly reduced. Further, adoption of these rules could also lead to a decrease in appealable issues after conviction, again reducing the workload in our courts and reducing the costs associated with criminal trials.

Finally, judges serving on criminal courts should be the ones who introduce the charges to the jury, explaining in advance the penalty for the crime, as well as advising the jury on the different kinds of evidence they will be hearing. During the trial, a judge should act as both referee and team captain, making sure each side adheres to the rules of evidence while moving things along at a manageable pace. Once a verdict has been reached, a judge should then pronounce sentence immediately and the defendant should begin their rehabilitation or other punishment.

From this point on, appeals should be limited and based upon new factual evidence or the discovery of wrongdoing on the part of the prosecution. (Prosecutors and police investigators, as well as witnesses in a trial should face serious sanctions if it is later to be found that they knowingly fabricated evidence to convict an innocent person.) Semantic irregularities or procedural errors should not negate hard, solid evidence of guilt or free guilty criminals.

These initial changes to our criminal court system could improve the fairness and consistency of trials. The streamlined evidence process, intended to bring forth the facts and separate the subjective evidence would mean quicker trials and lower overall costs on all sides, something only the lawyers will be saddened by. And the use of pre-arranged sentencing guidelines and limited appeals would increase the likelihood that criminals would be made to answer for their digressions.

I have offered two pieces of the reformed criminal justice system: the restructuring of jurisdiction and establishment of a three-tiered enforcement and investigative hierarchy, and a streamlined criminal court program. Both elements eliminate waste and offer society more security by focusing on prosecuting criminal behavior. Next up…reforming our system of punishment.