American Criminal Courts

Legal Process and Social Context


  • Casey Welch
  • John Fuller

American Criminal Courts: Legal Process and Social Context provides a complete picture of both the theory and day-to-day reality of criminal courts in the United States. The book begins by exploring how democratic processes affect criminal law, the documents that define law, the organizational structure of courts at the federal and state levels, the overlapping authority of the appeals process, and the effect of legal processes such as precedent, jurisdiction, and the underlying philosophies of various types of courts.

In practice, criminal courts are staffed by people who represent different perspectives, occupational pressures, and organizational goals. Thus, this book includes chapters on actors in the traditional courtroom workgroup (judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, etc.) as well as those outside the court who seek to influence it, including advocacy groups, the media, and politicians.

It is the interplay between the court's legal processes and the social actors in the courtroom that makes the application of criminal law fascinating. By focusing on the tension between the law and the actors inside of it, American Criminal Courts: Legal Process and Social Context demonstrates how the courts are a product of "law in action" and presents content in a way that enables you to understand not only the "how" of the U.S. criminal court system, but also the "why."

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This book can be used in brick-and-mortar and online courses, and across disciplines, including criminal justice and criminology, pre-law, sociology, and political science. This includes 2-year and 4-year traditional schools and career schools, as well as graduate schools, and courses such as Criminal Court Process and System, Courts and Sentencing, and Introduction to Courts.


Book information

  • Published: February 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-4557-2599-1


"Writing for undergraduate students in criminology, political science, sociology, or pre-law with no prior experience with the subject, Welch and Fuller introduce the structure and operations of the US criminal court system."--Reference & Research Book News, October 2013

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Principles and Decision Making in U.S. Criminal Courts

Part 1: Formal Social Control

Chapter 2: Social Control, Comparative Courts, and the Development of the U.S. Judicial System
Chapter 3: The Structure of Federal and State Courts
Chapter 4: Criminal Law, Crime, and the Criminal Court Process

Part 2: Negotiating Discretion, Making Decisions

Chapter 5: The Reality of Legal Action: Principles, Organizations, and Public Pressure
Chapter 6: Case Assessment, Case Attrition, and Decision to Charge

Part 3: Decision Making in the Pretrial and Trial Process

Chapter 7: The Pre-Trial Process
Chapter 8: The Prosecutor and the Exertion of State Power
Chapter 9: The Defense and Constraint on State Power
Chapter 10: The Criminal Trial Process: Judges, Bench Trials, Jury Deliberation, and Sentencing

Part 4: Specialized Courts

Chapter 11: The Right to Appeal and the Appellate Process
Chapter 12: Juvenile Courts
Chapter 13: Specialized Courts

Part 5: Frontiers of Justice

Chapter 14: Fuzzy Justice: Alternatives to Court
Chapter 15: Courts in the Future