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Criminal procedure constitutes the constitutional provisions, court rules, statutes, and other laws that govern the administration of justice. This term encompasses the procedures that the criminal justice system must follow during the entire process of a criminal case, starting from the initial investigation, through arrest, the pretrial stage, the trial stage, the appeal stage, and the serving the sentence. Throughout this stage, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges have various degrees of discretion that they can perform in the performance of their duties. Considering the impact that the excising of these discretions might have on a criminal case, understanding the involvement of each of these officials of the criminal justice system in the six stages is important.
Law enforcement officers are usually involved in the investigation stage. During this stage, a law enforcement officer must learn that a criminal offence may have been, or is to be committed, after which they are required to identify the probable offender or offenders. After identifying the offenders, these officials are required to collect and preserve evidence that the court will use to prove the suspect’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Law enforcement officers are allowed by the law to make arrests, carry out searches and seizures of suspects and their belongings, and occasionally apply force in their line of duty (Falk, 2010). The U.S. legal system provides for two types of arrest namely; arrest with warrant and arrest without warrant. A warrant of arrest is issued by a court of law and it allows a law enforcement officer to apprehend a person who is suspected of committing an offence. Arrests without warrant usually occur when someone commit a crime in the presence of a police officer or when he or she believes that someone has committed or is about to commit the crime. However, these powers can only be applied within the boundaries of the law. It is imperative to understand that these powers are checked by the law because when law enforcement officers exceed these boundaries, they might jeopardize the admissibility of the collected evidence for prosecution (Bloom & Brodin, 2007).
The pretrial stage, which must occur without unnecessary delays often take place at a low-level judicial official whose title might be a judge, magistrate or commissioner. In excising their discretion at this stage, the official will determine whether the suspect is to be released on bail or not (Falk, 2010). The constitution stipulates that the bail amount should not be excessive. Note that a bail is considered as a privilege and not a right. The prosecutor is also involved in this stage. The prosecution is expected to present its case before the judge and jury. If the initial hearing is waived or the examining judge establishes that there is probable cause for trial, then the prosecutor is expected to file a bill of information with another court where the r\trial will be conducted. After a suspect has been found guilty of a crime, the law provides that he or she should seek for an appeal at a high-level court. An appeal is founded on the assertion that an error of law was made during the pretrial process (Bloom & Brodin, 2007). At this stage a High Court or Supreme Court judge will hear the charges leveled against the sentenced person and review the judgment. These courts have the mandate of sustaining the initial judgment or issue alternative sentencing.
After the offender has been proven guilty, he or she shall receive a sentence based on the crime committed. At the federal level, sentences are usually imposed by the judge only. However, other states allow the defendant to choose whether to be sentenced by the Judge or the Jury. In exercising their discretion, judges are allowed to hand down punishments ranging from probation to death based on the crime committed.