In my last essay, I offered the opinion that our system of justice had broken down to the point that it no longer served the purpose for which it was intended, namely keeping the general public safe from harm, punishing those who do harm to others, providing timely redress in civil (non-criminal) actions, and maintaining the integrity of our national borders. I proposed a system of law enforcement, which would base jurisdiction on the criminal act itself rather than on the location of the act. While I plan to develop that concept more thoroughly, it is important to note that there are many other factors involved in the prevention of crime that lie outside enforcement and prosecution parameters. Such factors include the economic and educational status of the offender, as well as the circumstances surrounding the upbringing of that person. These issues are ones that will not be solved entirely by reforming the legal system as it pertains to criminal matters. Instead, society itself has to make other changes to remove the inequities that lead individuals towards a criminal act. Those will be topics of later essays though, so for now, I am going to discuss my thoughts on reforming our criminal and civil legal systems.

In order for a society to function properly, mutually agreed upon rules of conduct, or laws, are established by a consensus of the people through their elected officials. These laws are meant to serve as a guideline for acceptable public behavior as well as establishing penalties for those who break the laws. As citizens, we are bound to observe the laws of the land to the best of our ability. But it is also necessary, and perhaps more important even, to ensure that any law on the books is both necessary and enforceable. It is our task, as involved participants in society, to insist that the laws are applied fairly and that punishments meted out are both appropriate and consistently applied. Also, as stewards of the public purse, we must demand from our elected representatives that the creation, application, and administration of laws and penalties be accomplished in the most economically sound manner possible.

Our current jigsaw puzzle of legal codes, enforcement agencies, prosecutorial districts, and correctional practices is confusing, expensive, and duplicitous. Worse yet, the effectiveness is highly questionable. We are sending more people into our prison system each year, yet crime continues to flourish. We have enacted so many civil codes that many people have no idea whether questionable behavior is in fact illegal behavior or just boorish. Our court systems are overworked, mostly due to unlimited appeals processes, questionably written legal codes, allowable yet unfathomable prosecutorial and defense tactics and spurious civil cases. Our punishment system is rife with individuals serving different sentences for the same crimes, while others are not even prosecuted. We need to rethink our system and reform it so that it better serves the citizens who uphold it.

Because of the many elements involved in reforming our system of justice, I will be breaking this discussion into several essays. In these essays I will discuss Common Sense reforms for the criminal legal system, the civil legal system, the punishment process, and national security issues as they pertain to the physical boundaries of the United States. Such changes will attempt to produce a justice and security system that is more consistently applied, more fiscally responsible, less intrusive in everyday life, and yet still adheres to the protections afforded American citizens by our Constitution. We can then find people who support these reforms and elect them into public office so that the nonsense that passes for leadership and rational legislation can become a thing of the past.

I will begin then, with reform in our criminal legal system. The first concept I’d like to talk about is that of jurisdictional restructuring. What I mean by this is that rather than have duplicated laws for the same crimes in each of our counties and states, we should develop a national criminal code based upon the crimes themselves. This would require the implementation of a three-tiered system of responsibility: crimes handled by a Federal Justice agency, crimes handled by a State Justice Agency, and crimes handled by a Local Justice agency. I know that we have this kind of stratification in place already, but the current system has agencies fighting over resources and boundaries while leaving the public confused and under-protected.

In this new system, the Federal agency would have jurisdiction over all major violent crimes against individuals, crimes against our country that occur within our borders, crimes that involve the misuse or abuse of the public trust, and immigration crimes. The laws and punishments for these acts would be universal in nature, bringing about an end to the disparities that currently exist among the states. Crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, counterfeiting, treason, bribery of public servants, massive fraud, willful environmental destruction and immigration would all fall under the Federal agency’s jurisdiction.

The State agencies would be responsible for most crimes against private and public property, less serious physical crimes against people, fraudulent actions, criminal business codes, and traffic enforcement. These laws would probably be similar from state to state, but could account for differences in regional values and geographical concerns. The citizens of the state, through their state legislatures, would decide the punishments. The State agencies would not be responsible for enforcing or prosecuting those crimes assigned to the Federal agency, but would be available to share information regarding criminal behavior and could assist as needed in an investigatory role.

Our Local agencies would likely be the least burdened of the three, and rightly so. Local enforcement costs are driving many communities to cut their police forces or slash spending in other programs for their citizens. This does not give our cities a leaner, more effective security system, but instead makes us less secure as our populations grow in relation to our dwindling police forces. Local agencies would be charged with handling mostly misdemeanor offenses coinciding with local ordinances, rather than with the major crimes.

In my next essay, I will talk a little about the structure of each of these agencies, how they would work in concert with each other and with society to produce a safer environment for all of us to live in. I will talk about the provisions placed in our national Constitution and how they relate to this new division of duties. Society has the right to expect to be able to live our lives without fear of crime and without the fear of unjust government prosecution. We have the right to expect that criminal behavior is either rehabilitated or the offender removed from the general population. We have the duty to create only good laws, laws based not on various moral opinions or special interests, but on collectively agreed upon premises. And we have the responsibility to make sure that the administration of our criminal legal system does not overburden our public finances by being duplicitous, confusing, and arbitrary.