Understanding the Components of the Criminal Justice System

Law Enforcement Police Officer

Perhaps one of the most unique industries within America is the United States criminal justice system. This encompassing and dynamic system features a myriad of levels and parts. Each of these parts features a unique legal focus, and while they may seem separated, they all work in unison to provide full coverage and continuity of law. Although we can dissect the United States criminal justice system into a variety of parts, there are three primary components which comprise the entire legal system.

Component #1 – Law Enforcement

The fundamental component within the United States criminal justice system is law enforcement. This unique component consists of police officers, federal agents, park/game rangers and detectives – just to name a few. These are the professionals who typically make the first contact with criminals and are essential to providing safety to the general public. They are the ones who uphold local, state and federal laws and make apprehensions should a crime be committed.

Law enforcement professionals must be well-versed in the rights of suspected criminals as well as the regulations when it comes to search and seizure. Police officers must also be aware of the various civil and citizen rights to ensure the rights of all Americans aren’t compromised during an investigation or response to potential crimes. If becoming a police officer interests you, there are many resources available that outline how to become a police officer fast so you can jump right into the career. Your Police Career states that becoming a police officer is a great career, as it is a stable position with excellent state-run pensions and retirement programs available after your tenure.

Component #2 – The Court System

The next level of the United States criminal justice system is the court system. The key individuals who are found within this level of the legal system include attorney’s, jury members and judges. The majority of these positions are held by elected officials, such as judges and district attorneys. The court system is where an arrested offender undergoes a trial by his peers in order to determine whether or not he is guilty or innocent of his suspected crime. Should the offender be found guilty, they are then ushered into the next – and final – level of the criminal justice system.

Component #3 – The Correctional System

The final layer of the Untied States criminal justice system is the correctional system. This unique component handles criminals who have been convicted of a crime. Key persons within this layer of the system include: correctional officers, parole officers and probation officers. Each professional within the correctional system work together to ensure the offender carries out his or her sentence according to the statutes established by state and federal laws as well as by the sentencing judge.

4 Primary Courses of a Criminal Justice Degree Program


A degree in criminal justice is one of the most rewarding, and flexible, degree programs any student can enroll in. Due to the various topics that are covered within this program, students are able to master a variety of skills and topics that are in-demand not only within the criminal justice system, but in the private sector as well. Post 9/11, the security services industry in America has been booming. These jobs typically entail security guards and officers, private security detail, and corporate security contracts. If you’re interested in enrolling in a criminal justice degree program to specialize in fields such as unarmed security guard training or for a federal position such as the U.S. Marshals, then you should take a moment to review the following four primary courses and topics covered in all security services and criminal justice degree programs.

Criminal Justice Degree Program Courses:

The Law and Legal System

This is perhaps the cornerstone of any criminal justice degree program. Throughout this course, you’ll be taught the processes, structures and history of the American legal system. This program is designed to introduce students about law who otherwise have little knowledge of this dynamic and complex subject. While this is the general course, it’s an essential building block before pursuing more specialty topics, such as constitutional law, business law or criminal law. Topics covered within this course include the structure the American court system, primary subdivisions of law, which include criminal procedure, law or torts and civil procedure.

Substantive Criminal Law

This essential course covers all topics related to substantive criminal law. While the exact topics covered within this coursework can vary based upon the training institutions, the most common topics include discovering the origins of criminal law, elements of criminal liability, substantive due process, a process of uncompleted crimes, criminal liability defenses and the doctrine of complicity. Other subject areas may include the various elements of crimes against property, public order, morals, habitation and persons. These courses can be particularly useful for those wishing to obtain their security guard card, or when submitting a PERC card application within their state, such as Illinois requires.

Law of Criminal Procedure

The law of criminal procedure is a vital subject matter for all criminal justice degree students. Within this subject matter, students will learn about the various laws that determine due process that’s involved in criminal defendants. The foundation of this course is case analyses and case interpretations. Students will learn the relationship between criminal procedures, court system and how the U.S. Constitution plays a role in these processes. Other topics include the use of interrogations and its subsequent confessions, identification processes, state law breaking, conviction by trial, the convictions by guilty plea and considerations related to sentencing.


Criminal justice ethics are one of the most important subject matters as the topics covered within this coursework are applicable to industries outside of the criminal justice system. Throughout the coursework, students learn how to address various ethical issues that may arise when working within the criminal justice system. Throughout a combination of lectures, discussions and hands-on exercises, students are able to cultivate a better understanding in how ethical dilemmas play a role within the criminal justice system.