In my last essay, I talked about the restructuring of our Criminal Justice system by changing the jurisdiction of criminal acts from the current system that is based primarily upon location to one based primarily upon the criminal act itself. I briefly outlined a three-tiered division of jurisdiction that assigns the most serious crimes to a Federal agency, less serious crimes to the state agencies, and misdemeanor offenses to the local enforcement agencies. I propose that in making such a change, our criminal justice system could begin to do a better job in meeting its purpose of keeping society safer. Further, by consolidating resources, tax dollars would be more wisely used by eliminating the duplication of equipment and time. But what steps would we need to take to make these changes a reality?

Currently, the federal government has several enforcement and investigative agencies operating in the country. They range from the U.S. Marshal’s to the FBI to the Secret Service to the BATF. The list could go on, I’m sure, but I think you see what I mean. Clearly, the federal government has, and has had, the constitutional mandate to provide domestic security for the citizens of the nation. In fact, the Constitution provides, in several of its Articles, that Congress retain the ability to establish courts inferior to the Supreme Court (Article I, Section 8.9 & Article III, Section 1) and to create law and punishment for several specific crimes, including counterfeiting, piracy, and treason. (Article I, Section 8) The Constitution also provides that Congress shall guarantee every state in the Union, upon the application of the legislature, protection against domestic violence. (Article IV, Section 4) These first two provisions that I mention establish the foundation by which the federal government has the right and the duty to legislate and prosecute criminal acts. The last provision is the more important one though. It is this provision that could provide the states the opportunity to enact the changes I have proposed. Therefore, by virtue of the Constitution, if the various state legislatures were to vote to cede the power of enforcement and prosecution of the worst crimes to the federal government, the Constitution requires that the federal government assume those tasks.

Ceding this jurisdiction to a federal agency would result in a national criminal code. This code would establish uniformity across the various states with regards to the crimes under the federal jurisdiction. Prohibited behaviors would be unlawful in all fifty states, to the same degrees, and with the same punishments. Investigative techniques for these crimes would be consistent nation wide with access to the finest crime solving technology available. Prosecution for these crimes would be fairly applied and not dependent upon social status or education. This would require a more consistently trained and highly skilled group of workers, but would also result in more uniformity in the way these crimes were investigated and prosecuted. This uniformity would provide greater over-all security to all citizens by removing the barriers and incentives that currently allow serious criminals to avoid detection and prosecution simply by changing their location. The federal agency would also be responsible for conducting trials and for administering the punishment to those offenders who committed national crimes.

Once the states have transferred jurisdiction of the worst crimes to the Federal Criminal Justice Agency, the rest becomes a matter of reorganization. At the federal level, we would need to eliminate the current cadre of agencies and create a single entity responsible for enforcing, investigating, and prosecuting said crimes. The consolidation of forensic laboratories and the sharing of information would streamline the costs associated with enforcing and prosecuting the law. This would also reduce the margin of error in the collection and evaluation of evidence by applying a common standard of practice. Such activities would also have the added benefit of providing a consistent method by which crimes were investigated and tried and help reduce the instances of unjust prosecution or the allegations of unjust prosecutions. Consistent standards would thereby help assure that guilty offenders would be less likely to be released by a jury or judge based on technical problems, thus ensuring that they serve their sentence for their crime.

State agencies, once unburdened with the costs and manpower requirements of investigating major crimes, would be better able to prevent and prosecute those crimes of a lesser nature. Major crimes are usually more costly to investigate and prosecute, and due to the nature of the crimes themselves, those convicted often remain incarcerated for a longer period of time. These costs are growing more every year, making it difficult for states to find the resources to combat the more common, less serious crimes. Since it is often these “mid-level” crimes that are most rampant in society, allowing a state criminal justice agency to focus only on this level of crime would mean that better enforcement could be available. With greater financial resources available for law enforcement, prosecution, rehabilitation or incarceration, states would be better able to punish offenders as they should be punished, rather than giving a slap on the wrists. This would end the revolving door mentality of our correction system because the resources would be available to retrain or retain those offenders. In addition to these tasks, the state agencies would contribute to the federal agency’s information database for certain crimes as well as assist federal agents in detaining or locating suspects.

Our local governments would benefit the most from this restructuring, at least financially. The burden for enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration of criminals would be largely taken out of their domain. Local law enforcement would consist mainly of ensuring that local ordinances were being observed, but would also assist both state and federal agents as needed in detaining or locating suspects. The need for a large local force to protect the citizenry from heinous crime would disappear and the cities and counties could reallocate their budgets accordingly, allowing for more local tax dollars to be used for the community.

Getting back to the Constitution for a minute, Article 6 of the Bill of Rights provides that criminal prosecutions be afforded a speedy and public trial in the district where the crime was committed. This provision was included as a protection to the accused individual to prevent their being convicted by people whose social norms were vastly different or by judges and prosecutors hell bent of some kind of back room retaliation. It may seem that by changing the current system from one of jurisdiction by location to one of jurisdiction by act would run contrary to this concept. Where would federal criminals be prosecuted? What about state offenders? Would there be some centralized national or state crime courts? Applying some old-fashioned Common Sense easily solves this problem.

In order to satisfy the requirements of the Constitution and still remain fiscally prudent while at the same time restructuring our criminal justice system, each community would be home to a combined Criminal Justice Center. This building would house all three agencies, as well as their investigative laboratories and information databases. By combining these agencies into a central location, the use of tax dollars to maintain multiple facilities would be reduced, as would the associated support staff. These savings could be used to increase the number of investigators or upgrade the forensic technologies or better rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated. The community becomes better protected in a fiscally responsible way and the offender is still provided their constitutional rights of being tried in the district where the offense occurred.

My case for reforming the criminal justice system is based on the notion that some crimes are equally anti-social regardless of location and should thus be categorized as national offenses in order to ensure equal protection for all citizens. It is also based on the idea that our current criminal system is too expensive because of the multitude of similar agencies doing similar jobs while maintaining their independence from each other. This restructuring is only the first step in creating a system that truly works to protect all citizens equally. My next essay will discuss reforms for the prosecution and punishment phase of our criminal system. We can change the way we fight crime, but we also have to change the way we punish or rehabilitate the offender.