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When it comes to the American legal system, there are two controversial areas that require greater scrutiny, and these are laws governing criminal defenses and criminal punishments. In the context of criminal punishment, it is best to re-examine the Castle Doctrine and the Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine, especially when it comes to the use of force. In the context of criminal defenses, there are at least three major topics that require a more in-depth discussion, and these include: double jeopardy; the nature of the court’s application of the adversarial system of litigating criminal cases; and the right to a speedy trial. An examination of the above-mentioned legal concepts can help broaden a person’s appreciation or critique of the American legal system.
In the politically charged environment of present-day America, there are only a few topics of discussion that are as polarizing as the perceived abuses committed by police officers when subduing, apprehending, and neutralizing alleged suspects and those resisting arrest. At the heart of the issue is the need to determine when and how to use of lethal force. However, recent developments prompted a more nuanced examination of the legal principles that empower law enforcement agents to use lethal force to protect themselves. These two major legal concepts are the Castle Doctrine and Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine.
In both the Castle Doctrine and the Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine, the inherent idea is the right of the person to defend himself or herself against intruders. In the book entitled Criminal Law and Procedure the author asserted that the Castle Doctrine came from an older legal tradition stating that a man’s home is his castle (Hall, 2015). This legal principle highlighted the fact that since an ordinary person’s home is compared to a nobleman or king’s castle, that ordinary citizen is given the legal right to defend the house against the intrusion of criminals or those with an intent to break the law. Nevertheless, the right to defend home or property is never absolute, because no one has the right to defend it at all cost. In other words, it is not lawful to harm the intruder if there is a chance to call for police assistance.
The Castle Doctrine becomes problematic when applied outside the premises of a person’s property. The evolution of the Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine was due in large part to the Castle Doctrine (Hall, 2015). In this related legal principle, the right to use lethal force is extended outside the premises of a person’s abode. In other words, a police officer standing in a street corner is empowered to pull out his weapon and shoot someone approaching him or her if the officer believes that the individual is a threat to his or her safety.
The superficial application of the Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine becomes problematic and controversial when applied to the daily occurrence in the life of a law enforcement agent. It becomes more convoluted when applied to the activities of quasi-law enforcement agents, and in cases involving citizen’s arrests. The controversies associated with this legal doctrine came to the fore in 2012 when George Zimmerman shot dead a teenager named Trayvon Martin (Cook & Goss, 2014). Zimmerman pointed out that he was acting out as a neighborhood watchman. Herein lies the controversy, because Zimmerman did not have the adequate training to assess different threat levels and how to escalate the application of lethal force (Cook & Goss, 2014). Thus, there is a need to revisit this legal principle.
One of the most critical aspects of the American legal system is the adoption of a legal framework that is in place in order to minimize the possibility of the conviction or the imprisonment of innocent people. For this purpose, it is best to examine three concepts that are both helpful when it comes to preventing the miscarriage of justice. On the other hand, these concepts require greater scrutiny due to the possibility of becoming legal loopholes in favor of guilty parties.
These legal concepts include: double jeopardy; the adversarial system of litigating a criminal case; and the right to a speedy trial. With regards to the first concept, it is not difficult to appreciate the basic principle of the double jeopardy principle. This principle highlights the fact that it is not practical to prosecute a person multiple times for allegedly committing a specific act. However, a controversy arises when the prosecution team requests a mistrial or when there is judicial misconduct (Carlan, Nored, & Downey, 2016). In other words, there is a grave concern in the abuse and misuse of the principle, such that the utilization of legal technicalities help acquit the guilty party.
In the case of the adoption of the adversarial system of litigating criminal cases, this framework became part of the present legal system, because of the belief that the “adversarial method” provides the appropriate legal environment for determining the truth. However, there are several problematic issues in applying the said adversarial system. First, in several cases, the competency levels of the competing counsels are not equal (Hall, 2015). Second, the inherent weakness of an adversarial system is the accusatorial nature of the trial (Hall, 2015). In other words, if the prosecution failed to prove the guilt of the accused, then, he or she is entitled to a favorable verdict.
The right to a speedy trial is another critical legal principle that ensures the protection of a person’s human rights. However, it is also prone to abuse, especially after considering the vague language used in the Sixth Amendment when it compels courts and judges to make haste or else risk an acquittal (Smith, 2010). This principle becomes debatable and controversial when defense lawyers attempt to use it in order to evade the law. There is no specific timetable given that judges and courts can follow in order to ensure the correct application of the law. Thus, if there are legitimate reasons for a delay in the trial, there should be a way to interpret the law in order to prevent the miscarriage of justice.
An overview of the legal principles employed to handle criminal defenses seemed to indicate that the American legal system was developed in order to ensure that the innocent will never have to endure unjust and unlawful punishments. This was revealed after going through the strengths and weaknesses of the application of the principles of double jeopardy, the adversarial system of litigating cases, and the right to a speedy trial.
However, one can also argue there are problematic issues when it comes to giving out criminal punishments, because the use of the Stand-Your-Ground Doctrine seemed to empower law enforcement officers and quasi-law enforcement agents to apply lethal force in a subjective manner. There is a need to revisit and modify these legal concepts in order to uphold the law all over the nation.
Carlan, P., Nored, L., & Downey, R. (2016). A brief introduction to criminal law. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Cook, P., & Goss, K. (2014). The gun debate: What everyone needs to know? New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hall, D. (2015). Criminal law procedure. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
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Smith, R. (2010). Sixth Amendment: The right to a fair trial. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing.