The criminal justice field includes careers focused on law enforcement, criminal prosecution, and correctional and rehabilitative services. Many accomplished criminal justice professionals demonstrate common character traits that help each worker excel at her job. Good person-to-person communication skills, unshakeable personal integrity and an ability to handle pressure-packed situations help to provide a solid foundation for a criminal justice career.
A police officer often serves as citizens' first contact with the law enforcement community. As an officer walks or drives through her territory, she meets residents and business owners. She also helps broken-down motorists and provides support to accident victims. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the officer encounters people who might have broken a local, state or federal law. Whether the person has allegedly committed a domestic violence crime or a robbery, the officer handles the incident using well-defined procedures. She prepares a detailed report that often leads to a more extensive investigation.
An astute police detective uses a police officer's crime report to spur the detective's own investigation. The detective carefully questions the crime victim, suspects(s) and witnesses to uncover additional crime details. The detective also monitors the department's crime scene investigators, who scour the crime scene for forensic evidence for the crime lab. After the detective carefully reviews her interview notes, and analyzes the forensic results, she determines whether the case has come to a clear resolution. Finally, the detective organizes her information in preparation for possible court testimony.
A district attorney, or DA, plays a multifaceted role in her jurisdiction's criminal justice system. First, she evaluates a criminal case's merits based on information provided by a law enforcement investigation. If the DA determines she has sufficient evidence to build a strong case, she files criminal charges and the case proceeds. The DA also strengthens law enforcement's evidence-gathering skills by providing legal advice about investigative and arrest procedures. Finally, she serves as a crime prevention advocate, encouraging law enforcement personnel and local citizens to adopt a cooperative crime-fighting strategy.
Criminal Defense Attorney
A resourceful criminal defense attorney represents her defendant's best interests throughout the legal process. Beginning with the defendant's arraignment, the attorney stands with her client through the case's preliminary hearings, trial and sentencing phases. To prepare her client's defense, the attorney often relies on paralegal assistants, paid investigators and consultants to perform legal research and interview pertinent witnesses. The defense attorney might also recruit expert witnesses, such as physicians or psychologists, to render their professional opinions in court. Finally, the defense attorney uses her legal expertise and strategic skills to present her case for the defendant's acquittal.
A court reporter provides a verbatim transcript of criminal trials and other legal proceedings. She often operates a stenotype machine that re-creates spoken words through key sequences. Alternatively, she uses a steno mask, a covered microphone that allows her to repeat participants' dialogue aloud. In both cases, computer software provides her with a transcript she edits for accuracy. Finally, she can activate a digital recording system that provides an audio record. The court reporter provides copies of the finished legal document to judges, trial attorneys, jurors and other involved parties.
A corrections officer performs law enforcement and security functions within a jail or prison. This trained law enforcement agent enforces her correctional facility's rules and reports inmates who violate those rules. Inmates include suspects with upcoming trials along with people convicted of a crime after due process of law. A corrections officer also endeavors to provide a secure environment for all facility residents. Finally, a corrections officer helps to facilitate inmate rehabilitation programs such as job training or counseling.
A probation officer supervises the activities of two types of convicted criminals. She works with people who have received a defined probation term instead of a prison sentence. A probation officer also monitors activities of recently released inmates who have re-entered their communities. She tracks each offender's compliance with a predetermined treatment plan, and regularly reports these results to appropriate authorities. In large metro areas, a probation officer typically works with either juveniles or adults. In smaller towns and remote areas, she may monitor both types of offenders.
A victim advocate serves as a crime victim's support system throughout criminal justice proceedings. Victim advocates typically apprise a victim of her rights and provide regular updates on the case's movement through the legal system. Victim advocates also help to connect a victim with community services that may help her move forward. Equally importantly, a victim advocate provides compassion and caring understanding to an often traumatized crime victim.
- Herzing University: Criminal Justice
- Pueblo, Colorado County Government: What Does the District Attorney Do?
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: Court Reporters: What Court Reporters Do
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: Correctional Officers
- United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Missoula County, Montana: Crime Victim Advocate Office
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