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New Criminal Courts Textbook

By: , Posted on: July 24, 2013

American Criminal CourtsWe hear about criminal court cases from every facet of media.  Famous actors getting convicted for DUI, defendants being sentenced to years in prison for seemingly minor offenses, and guilty-looking defendants getting released because of procedural rules.  Courts, however, are often considered the most mysterious component of the criminal justice system because of the unique, and sometimes even odd, language, rituals, and logic.

With years of experience working in the criminal justice system and teaching and researching crime and the CJS, Professor John Fuller and I decided to team up in order to help people understand the formal structure of the criminal courts as well as the actual operations and decision making within courts.

Most textbooks these days try to minimize jargon, and we adhere to that principle as well.  And most courts books will explain the basic structure of the courts, which we also do.  But two features make this new book distinct from other criminology and criminal justice textbooks.  First, it explains what we call the “reality of legal action.”  It describes the legal and social forces that shape the courts and factors that influence how attorneys assess cases.  This book shows that there are real humans making legal decisions every day in criminal courts.

Second, the book is cohesive.  Rather than jump from one topic to the next like many texts do, we organize our book around three themes, which allows each chapter to be connected and build toward the later chapters.  One of the themes is the reality of legal action, that discretion and decision making are influenced by an array of internal and external pressures, from rules of legal reasoning to media coverage and elections.  The other two themes are:

  1. courts have stable principles but are dynamic and adaptive to societal changes
  2. the framework of courts is a balance between crime control and due process mandates

By the time the reader gets to the chapters that detail the pre-trial and trial stages, he or she already has an understanding of the historical context and legal principles of the court and is familiar with empirical research on legal decision making.  The court process will actually make some sense rather than be a mysterious maze. They’ll understand, for instance, that judges appoint attorneys to indigent defendants because of the legal principle embodied in the 6th Amendment.  They’ll understand that when a prosecutor dismisses a case or pleas it down, it’s because of legal reasoning regarding the quality of evidence, but also because of caseload and other cues.

This book brings to life how lawyers and judges go about making the many decisions required of them everyday.  They’ll know the basic legal rules and stages, but also the decisions that carry cases from one stage to the next. We want the readers to not only learn about the court system but also to feel what it’s like to work in the U.S. courts and to handle criminal cases.

Just some of the topics covered in this book include:

  • Summary of dozens of Supreme Court cases
  • The historical foundation of U.S. courts
  • Comparative courts systems that correspond with the various families of law in order to illustrate the distinct features of U.S. courts
  • The crime control and due process functions of the court
  • State courts and the federal courts
  • Comparison between civil and criminal jurisdiction
  • An explanation of legal reasoning
  • The appellate process
  • Case assessment and case attrition
  • Media representation of the courts
  • The duties and decision making of the courtroom workgroup, including prosecution, defense, and judge
  • “Fuzzy justice,” or new paths the criminal courts are taking, including specialized courts and restorative justice

Another great thing about this book is that John and I have made a video to accompany each of the chapters.  These summarize the main ideas of the chapter and introduce an important trend or controversy related to it.

This book can be used in online and brick-and-mortar courses, and in various departments, including criminal justice and criminology, political science, sociology, and pre-law.  We provide concise explanations of the overall criminal justice system and criminal law, which serve as an introduction to the novice and a brief review for those who have completed foundational courses.  The extensive supplements also add to the versatility of this book.

About Casey Welch:

Casey Welch is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Sociology at Flagler College. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his B.A. in Criminology and Law with a minor in Philosophy from the University of Florida. His research areas include social control; legal decision making; homelessness; media; and pedagogy. He also works as a consultant with criminal court attorneys.

*You can find more information on American Criminal Courts here.

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Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice - SciTech ConnectA highly evolved and complex criminal justice system makes enormous demands of the people who work in it. Professionals in law and criminal justice, law enforcement, corrections, criminology, homeland security, crisis and emergency management, physical and computer security, and forensics all need up-to-date information in these constantly changing fields. Elsevier delivers this vital information to students, instructors, researchers, and practitioners through our industry-leading imprints: Anderson Publishing, Butterworth-Heinemann, Academic Press and Syngress.