How has the United States justice system evolved over time?

Overall, the justice system has expanded over time.  It has also grown increasingly protective of individual rights and far more procedural in its application of the law (that is, far more demanding in its requirements of plaintiffs, lawyers, and law enforcement).

Federal
  1. The federal justice system has expanded due to growth in federal law.
  2. Federal law has expanded due to doctrinal growth in 2 major areas: the Commerce Clause and Constitutionally-protected rights.
  3. The Commerce Clause has greatly expanded federal jurisdiction into areas that used to be the exclusive province of the states.
  4. Similarly, the number of "rights" guaranteed to individuals have multiplied.  For hundreds of years, the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government, not to the states.  For example, only the federal government was prohibited from an establishment of religion, but many of the states had established churches.  Now, through a process of "incorporation," many of the protections guaranteed under the federal constitution have been extended to cover state action, which in turn means there are many greater causes of action for violation of these rights in federal court.  The civil rights movement helped feed this growth by frequently invoking federal power against the states.  Similarly, new views of the Amendments expanded and specified the procedure required of law enforcement (e.g. Miranda warnings).
  5. As a result of the growth in powers available to Congress and protections available to the individual, Congress fed this expansion by passing more laws and imposing more federal penalties.  This has resulted in the growth in the number of federal judges, prosecutors and defenders that Gary correctly notes. This has been further exacerbated by the increasing frequency of appealing decisions, which forces appeals courts to take on more staff to cope.

State
  1. On a state level, I'm not sure that the justice system has itself expanded, if you think of the "justice system" as involving just cops and judges and the like.  However, the prison system has undoubtedly expanded.
  2. This has occurred partly because of population growth and partly in response to a surge in crime rates during the 70s and 80s that, in turn, drove an increasingly "get tough" "war on crime" line towards criminal justice.  This "politicization" of justice led to longer potential sentences, "3 strikes" laws and the criminalization of additional behavior.
  3. Part and parcel of this explosion was the expanding "war on drugs" which imprisoned a larger number of offenders. This has also occurred on the federal level.

Hope this helps!

Federal prosecutors are highly paid , immune from the consequences of misconduct that deter other lawyers , armed with unfettered plea bargaining power in that less than 10% of cases go to trial and the defendant who decides to try his case faces sentencing guidelines enhancing his sentence for maintaining his innocence based on the fiction of expense (The DOJs AssetForfeiture Fund held by Treasury could not reconcile funds deposited from US Attorney local offices with amounts contained in judicial forfeiture orders as reported in annual independent audits of the fund , so now the $12–15 billion interest bearing account will not accept funds without proof of court orders , yet plea deals require some defendant /cooperators to forfeit assets before they are sentenced and judges are persuaded no order is required) and finally they can bring charges against a defendant claiming charges against a cooperating witness and his prosecution should be sealed and when undisclosed stand-by silently when the cooperator invents a fictional self promoting version of the story jurors could not fathom is false by the prosecutors silence.

If a partner in a law firm was accused of equivalent misconduct which effected the case outcome and potentially third party rights , raise your hands if the judge would allow the law firm to conduct an investigation secretly to determine if and how their partner should be disciplined. Unless the judge conducts his own investigation or appoints a special counsel to investigate the federal prosecutor in nearly all cases is subject to a DOJ professionalism investigation with no authority to punish except as an employment offense.

Following the jaw dropping evidence of misconduct by the prosecutors of Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens the presiding judge appointed a special counsel whose 500 plus page report has exposed the lack of fear and shameful denials of documented misconduct , especially in a high profile case. Most courts have taken notice and prior tolerance has given way to at least some relief for defendants by way of new trials . The Fifth Circuits Bowen , Dvorin and Texas v US district court findings have been affirmed and substantive action taken.

If current events leave you perplexed that high level DOJ executives may be motivated by personal agendas (political or financial) and foster relationships with media publishers who will print and protect DOJ stories as if provided by impeccable sources , read Bowen . US Attorney Jim Letten and his number two Jan Mann resigned in disgrace when the coordinated misconduct involving leaking sealed material to the media , planting false stories and prosecutors writing comments to media stories under assumed names published to influence the public and jurors to accept the prosecutors agenda during the prosecution was revealed. The district trial judge was peppered with misconduct complaints by the guilty police officer defendants requesting new trials .

The judge was concerned about the media reports of secret grand jury deliberations and decisions prior to indictments being issued . Also a high ranking supervising AUSA admitted he authored comments and blog submissions under a false name highly critical of the defendants mentioning evidence giving his statements the authoritative edge of an insider. When then judge called the US Attorney to answer for this misconduct , under oath with Jan Mann standing at his side the court was assured the single prosecuting lawyer who was not trying this case was the only offender. The court ordered his office to investigate and report all prosecutor/media contact in all pending federal cases. Mann reported there was none on June 27 2012 when she issued her report to the judge.

In November a long time rival and public critic of Letten released the report of a well regarded FBI forensic expert who examined writing samples of Letten's staff in the context of anonymous comments and blogs published in connection with the prosecution at issue. His report identified Jan Mann . The judge ordered her to appear , she admitted that she and the DOJ attorney sent from Washington to insure the defendants civil rights were protected at trial both blogged . She admitted that her investigation of the prosecutor / media contacts was submitted without anyone from the media undergoing a formal interview. She had no response to remaining silent when Letten testified , in her presence , that there was only one participant to the indefensible misconduct.

In December Letten and Mann resigned in disgrace but with full benefits.

The DOJ stepped in and the judges investigation into the scope of the misconduct was usurped. New trials were ordered and deals were later made. Reading Bowen is sobering .

When the decision was made to use the DOJ to fight international terror as a substitute for military efforts a new level of coordinated secrecy , secret data collection and judicial courts separate from conventional constitutional and privacy protections was created . The DOJs efforts internationally make it active in efforts Congress cannot possibly oversee . Previously the CIA exercised such power but was always limited by prohibitions on domestic projects. Terrorism and its financing , money laundering for drug and other profitable criminal activities and prosecuting other crimes with the opportunity of obtaining proceeds overseas in joint efforts is a subject as yet unreported.

It is a system which has evolved.


I think our system has evolved over time because we now have the technology and resources available to know what criminal acts and offenses have for the right punishments, time, cost, and what are the procedures that are to be followed to protect the victims and the offenders of their rights. As to the old days they might of just stoned you, hung you, or put you in prison for the sake they had really know idea what to do. It is clear to our system now that we have advanced over time an have the right resources to understand.

There are a great many more federal judges over time, there are more federal crimes over time, the Supreme Court has taken on more and more power in our system of government.

Prior to the presidency of FDR the Supreme Court rarely found acts of congress unconstitutional and even more rarely proposed language in their opinions as to how the legislature could fix the law such that they would approve the change.
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