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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Essay on Impact of Federal Legislation in the Criminal Justice System

Impact of Federal Legislation in the Criminal Justice System

The United States adopts the principle of Federalism.  As a system government, its primary feature is the distribution of powers between National Government known as the federal government, and the states known as Regional or State Government.  It is based on the principle of dual sovereignty by which the governmental powers and authority, functions, responsibilities and resources are distributed between the federal government and Regional Government.  The unique feature of this system of government is that the US Constitution grants the Federal government certain powers while at the same time recognizing the sovereignty of the individual states.  
The difference between the federal government and the state government is that the laws passed by the former apply to all states while the laws passed by the latter only have application to the state that passed the law.  Federal laws therefore have broader range and have broader impact.  Some of these federal laws that created an impact in the lives of many Americans and even non-Americans are the equal employment opportunity laws.  These laws granted equal protection in work-related environment and prohibited discrimination. 
One of these laws which changed the lives of almost every worker in this country is the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Before the enactment of this law, the minority was discriminated and not given equal opportunity to work or to aspire for promotion on account of his race, color of his skin, his religion, his sex, or his national origin.  With the enactment of laws employers are now prohibited from discriminating against certain individuals based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  A violation of this law and the other equal opportunity laws will result to the imposition of penalty of fine and imprisonment. 
The other laws that protected the employees are the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which protects men and women who perform equal work in the same establishment form sex-based discrimination, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects individuals who are 40 years of age, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities
Federal legislations have also been very instrumental in expanding the rights of victims.  Before these federal legislations were passed, the crime victims essentially did not have a direct participation in the criminal justice, except for the fact that they have to testify in court.  The Criminal Justice System was essentially a battle between the prosecution and the defense.  With the passage however of these federal legislations, the rights of the victims slowly evolved. One of these rights is the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.  This law together with the other victim rights laws helped in the enhancement of victim notification system and in the improvement of the support system to the victims of crime.   The most important changes, however, that these laws brought about is that they gave the victims the right to speak at sentencing hearings and not just to submit victim impact statements.  The right to speak is given to victims even if there is more than one criminal sentencing.  In case the crime victim is denied the right to speak at a sentencing hearing then the victim can ask the court to have the sentence vacated and a new sentencing hearing shall be held. 
Because we consider the decisions of the Supreme Court as part of the law of the land, it has also helped shape the course of the criminal justice system.  Federal case laws also shaped our criminal justice system.  One of the important changes is that abortion, generally, is not a crime.  In the landmark case of Roe v. Wade (410 US 113), the Supreme Court said that the decision to terminate one’s pregnancy is a personal decision of the mother which is included in the Right to Privacy, to wit:
“the right to privacy… founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy”
 As such it is protected by the Constitution.  Subject to certain exceptions, a mother has the right to decide for herself what she is going to do with the fetus that is inside her.  The government therefore has no right to limit or even interfere with that freedom.  Neither can they pass laws restricting this right as the Supreme Court of the United States had already spoken on this issue.   
Other decisions of the Supreme Court that shaped our criminal justice system is its interpretation of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Eight and the Fourteenth Amendment.  In the earlier case of Furman v Georgia (408 US 238), the Supreme Court declared that the imposition and carrying out of the capital punishment constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment.  On the other hand, in the latter case of Gregg v Georgia (428 US 153) the Supreme Court had a change of heart and ruled that capital punishment does not violate the constitution.  It said that the capital punishment “does not invariably violate the Constitution if administered in a manner designed to guard against arbitrariness and discrimination” (428 US 169)
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