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Evidence Role In The Criminal Justice Essay, Research Paper

Evidence Role in the Criminal Justice System

I. Introduction

Evidence is the key element in determining the guilt or innocence of those accused of the crimes against society in a criminal court of law. But in order to understand magnitude and necessity of evidence as a it relates to the criminal justice system one must know what are the five (5) key issues and or points regarding evidence. The first is what truly is evidence is it written documentation, is it expert testimony, is it hearsay (oral uncorroborated statements) in a matter of fact way it can be all just mentioned, none just mentioned, or some just mentioned and others as well. After understanding what “truly” constitutes evidence one must realize how and were evidence can be gathered to have the correct overall view of what is and is not evidence. Third all things that may be evidence may be unusable either in defense or prosecution of the defendant. So it becomes essential to understand the ground rules set forth both on the Federal and State level with regards to what evidence is actually permissible in a court of law. Next, we need to analyze to major issues that have become prevalent in our time regarding evidence in the adversary system and the effect recent rulings have had in dictating what is evidence and more importantly evidence permissible in a court of law. Finally, what effect does the process of obtaining, collecting, and using evidence mean for our adversary model used in the criminal justice system?

II. What is evidence?

Evidence as stated by Neubauer, is “any kind of proof offered to establish the existence or nonexistence of a fact in dispute, for example, testimony, writings, other material objects, demonstrations” (536). Though this definition suffices in explaining a general overview what is evidence, one must also understand that not everything a layperson would reason to constitute evidence is admissible. Admissibility is the first step into understanding what is evidence, is everything that seems relevant to a case admissible, no. We can look to the United States Constitution and see that evidence uncovered regardless of how damaging done by unreasonable (unwarranted) seizures and searches can not be admitted into a court of law. This protection is granted in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. So one may wonder if evidence must be admissible to be evidence then how is admissibility determined? Admissibility is determined either by, Federal Rules of Evidence (used for Federal Proceedings), or the State Rules of Evidence (state with jurisdiction). In establishing what evidence is admissible, many rules of evidence concentrate first on the relevancy of the offered evidence. Second, the rules of evidence concentrate on the method by which evidence was gathered to try and ensure evidence was gathered within the guidelines set forth for collecting and gathering evidence in a criminal trial. The United States Supreme Court has stated, “What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection.” (Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 251 88S.Ct. 507, 19L.Ed. 576 1967). In certain circumstances law enforcement officers can obtain facts about someone by using opportunities to see, smell and hear things that are available to all people. Officers may observe activity in a home from a sidewalk, where the public has access, is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment; the resident of a home does not have reasonable expectation of privacy in what has been exposed to public view. Officers who stop a car and look inside do not conduct a search under the Fourth Amendment. If the officer sees an object they reasonably believe is evidence of a crime, they have probable cause to seize it.

Therefore we can readily ascertain that evidence is information (any kind of information) gathered legally and is relevant to determining the factual information of a case to the greatest extent possible.

III. What are the ground rules for evidence being used and evidence being withheld?

The ground rules with regards to evidence is two-part test, the first is the evidence must be “relevant” to determining the facts regarding a case. Second, the information or material gathered to be used as evidence must be consistent with the guidelines set forth for collections of such (whether at state or federal level). In North Carolina for example, in 1983 North Carolina General Assembly enacted an evidence code with rules of evidence that are similar to the federal rules of evidence. Judges use these rules of evidence and appellate cases interpreting the rules when they make their evidentiary rulings. Judges have substantial discretion in deciding whether evidence should be admitted in a trial. The statues that pertain to evidence and all other statues as well can be viewed at the following web address www.ncga.state.nc.us/statutes. The evidence code has brought forth some important rulings in the past 17 plus years, these rulings have played a crucial part in deciding how many cases are determined due to the evidence now admissible or inadmissible in a court of law in North Carolina. Two recent cases heard by the Supreme Court of North Carolina in 2000 were appealed with a question on the North Carolina Rules of Evidence. (www.ncinsider.com/insider/supreme/2000. In State of North Carolina v. Raymond Thomas Thibodeaux, Defendant asserts that the trial court erred under the North Carolina Rules of Evidence in allowing the State to introduce into evidence the transcript and audiotape testimony of the victim from the 50-B hearing. The Court ruled, upon examining the record on appeal, they found that the hearsay statements in question constitute, and are admissible as, statements of the declarant’s then-existing mental, emotional, or physical condition pursuant to Rile 803(3). In general hearsay evidence is not admissible. However, Rule 803(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence allows the admission of hearsay testimony into evidence if it tends to show the declarant’s then-existing state of mind. The second case, State of North Carolina v. Robert Franklin Brewington, Defendant addresses the search of his automobile. Defendant argued that the evidence found in his automobile should have been excluded because his statements giving consent to the search was made without a voluntary and knowing waiver of his Miranda rights. The court ruled that from the totality of the evidence of record regarding defendant’s arrest, waiver of Miranda rights, interrogation and statements made, we conclude defendant knowingly and voluntarily consented to the search of his vehicle. However, the case most readily identifiable with is Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that the exclusionary rule applies to the states as well as the deferral government. The ruling effectively overturns the rulings of Weeks v. Wolf in 1914 and Wolf v. Colorado 1949. In effect the ruling stated whether a case has state or federal jurisdiction, the law of search and seizure protects a person’s rights to privacy by restricting the power of law enforcement officers and other government officials to search and seize a person and a person’s property. The law of search and seizure comes not only from the Fourth Amendment, court decisions interpreting these laws and statutes with guidelines. An unlawful search or seizure may result in the exclusion of evidence from criminal proceedings, a civil lawsuit for money damages against the officers who made the illegal search, a criminal prosecution against the officers, or disciplinary action against officers by the employing agency. The ruling handed down by the Supreme Court provided a strict interpretation of the fourth amendment, “: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (www.geocities.com/Athens/4064/law.htm).

IV. What are the major issues facing the adversary system (prosecution v. defense) currently?

V. With our ever evolving society what effect does the process of obtaining and using evidence in criminal proceedings have on our criminal justice system?

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