Understanding American Jurisprudence

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The American jurisprudence system is one of the most complex and debatable topics of all of the nation’s infrastructures.  Naturally, when one is speaking of the laws that will govern society, there will be topics that raise much debate and strife between individuals.  One of the fundamental issues that continue to be asked about the jurisprudence system that has been put into place within the country stems from the basic question of: what is the role of the justice system?  From this sweeping generalized question, many smaller, more detailed questions can be asked including, within our legal system, do justice, ethics, discretion, or morality play a larger role or to what aspect do fairness and justice have to do with our legal system?  It is through the fundamental question of the defining the role of the justice system and those that operate within it that a much clearer image of the American jurisprudence system can be created, which will allow for the subsequent answering of the fine pointed questions such as what specific academic fields such as philosophy, psychology, or economics have to do with the legal system.  

To begin in the most general sense, it is important to understand the basic concept of what jurisprudence is and what it incorporates within its definition.  In the most fundamental sense, it is important to understand that when referring to jurisprudence, it is under the premise of, “the most fundamental, general, and theoretical plane of analysis of the social phenomenon called law,” (Posner, 1990).  From this general definition of what jurisprudence entails, there is the further distinction of two groups that an individual can be placed within when speaking about jurisprudence.  The first group encompasses the pursuit of the rational basis of the law.  Under this large group, the individual attempts to discover the reason for the binding nature of the law and to what extent this binding force extends to the members of the community (Buckland, 1949).  The second group stems from the want to create an ideal system of law.  Contained within this group are those that are concerned with the ‘law of nature,’ which includes the ethics and duty of those within the organized society that the laws apply to (Buckland, 1949).  

When taking in this concept of jurisprudence, the fundamental expectation of the legal system that governs our society can be seen as a means to serve and protect the citizens by providing a system of laws that are strict enough to dissuade an individual from committing certain white collar crimes while being lenient enough so as to not force the followers of the system of laws into living a lifestyle that is built upon strict and rigid rules.  To enforce these laws that are placed upon our society, specific roles are placed upon individuals to help monitor and ensure that the laws are interpreted and followed correctly.  These players known as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys serve as the means of understanding the legal system that our society has put into place and ensuring that purpose of the court system, to accurate identify and ensure that laws are clearly followed and interpreted, is followed.  Each of these players serves a specific role within the court system such as that of the prosecutor.  According to the American Bar, the prosecutor serves several distinct functions, chiefly as, “an administrator of justice, an advocate, and an officer of the court; the prosecutor must exercise sound discretion in the performance of his or her functions,” (American Bar, 2013). 

 Each of the other players have their own specific role as well, which, when coupled together, serve as the principle characters within our justice system.  One of the important notions to examine for these players is the different means by which they enter their respective offices.  Prosecutors are elected, judges are appointed, and defense attorney are hired, which reflect the nature of the positions very well.  Judges should be impartial and are appointed by those that are in the government’s structure in the hopes of removing much of the political bipartisanship that exists in our current system.  Prosecutors must reflect their districts opinions on pursuing criminal actions and are therefore elected by the general population, and defense attorney are chosen by the defendants (for the most part), which gives the defendant the greatest possibility of controlling their legal representation for a case.  

The importance of having these characters within our system is of absolute importance as they are the individuals that have the most knowledge of the laws of the land and the history of the interpretation and understanding of our laws based upon the history of other’s interpretations from the past.  This concept of appealing to the past is of critical importance when interpreting a specific case of a current law because it allows for element of subjectivism to be removed from the interpretation of a specific case as much as possible as the opinions of the past are able to be appealed to as much as possible in a current ruling.  This appeals to the concepts of both justice and fairness within our legal system.  When speaking of justice, it is important to note that one is referring to the idea of, “a system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal,” (Hill & Hill, 2013).  Some claim bias in the criminal justice system is a myth. Whereas fairness is loosely defined as the concept of exerting control over a given situation and being able to remove chance and luck from the circumstance of the individual (Cooke, 2012).  The interplay of these two are linked to the idea of the court system and serve as integral aspects of the way in which the law, and potential rulings and punishments, are interpreted and distributed.  In terms of justice, the system is directly in place with the notion that every member of society should have equal access and responsibility to follow the laws and receive both the benefits and punishments that the law carries, and it also applies to the concept of fairness as each individual is under a controlled circumstance where past examples of similar cases are made and referred to during multiple references to cases that have occurred in the past.

Based upon this notion of the setup of American jurisprudence, it is interesting to examine and relate the roles of different fields of study such as philosophy, history, and psychology and to what extent each has on the way in which the legal system is viewed and operated.  For the philosopher, the major contribution to American jurisprudence is seen from the way in which the moral responsibilities of the interpretation of the law are handled.  Legal philosophers are usually at the forefront of questioning, defending, or criticizing the way in which laws are made or rewritten as they are some of the chief characters in analyzing legal action from a moral standpoint.  This is different than the function that a historian would serve to the legal system.  They are much more concerned with examining the rulings of the courts in modern times and comparing that to rulings that have been made in the past.  What a historian brings to the legal system is to ensure that the courts are adhering to previous rulings and not making claims about the interpretation of a law that completely contradict multiple previous rulings.  To serve a different role still, the psychologist will look at the legal system and try to understand and interpret it from the individual’s point of view to ensure that it is both understandable and applicable to those that the laws will apply to. 

The application of one of the laws that is most troubling and debated in our system comes from the use of capital punishment.  It is viewed as a legal matter rather than a corrections matter, which seems legitimate based upon the logic that having a state execute an individual does not serve as a means of correcting that person’s behavior; rather it is a means of creating an example of that individual and removing them from society entirely.  By capital punishment, it is understood that the term is referred to as the death penalty in which the prisoner is executed by that state, ergo the punishment is reserved for the most offensive crimes.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice, in the year of 2005, of the 3,254 prisoners that ere under the sentence of death, only 60 were actually executed, and of those, all of the crimes included murder within them (Snell, 2007).  Though this topic is quite controversial, what is clearly seen is that it is reserved for individuals that have no regard for life to begin with and have no real place within society as it stands.  Therefore, it makes sense that capital punishment be treated as a legal matter over a correctional matter as it is dealing with the concept of removing the unwanted, unneeded portion of society rather than the rehabilitation of criminals that have the potential of being functional members of society again.

The American jurisprudence system is very complex and hard to examine from merely one aspect.  The many different areas that it encompasses are all woven together under one common goal, however.  The basic concept that the system is in place to serve the individuals by offering them the basic protections from danger and the guidelines for operating within society in a peaceful, law abiding manner is the common link.  From the different academic practices, different areas of the system can be analyzed and examined in order to see which areas of the system need further improvements or revisions.  Through a conjoined effort, the system is constantly able to be reevaluated and reexamined as needed to change and evolve along with society.    


American Bar. (2013). Prosecutor functions. American Bar Association, Retrieved from http://www.americanbar.org/publications/criminal_justice_section_archive/crimjust_standards_pfunc_blk.html

Buckland, W. W. (1949). Some reflections on jurisprudence. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Cooke, C. (2012). What is the difference between justice and fairness? which is more important? Oxford University, Retrieved from http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Cooke, C Essay.pdf

Hill, G. & Hill, K. (2013). Justice. Legal terms and definitions, Retrieved from http://dictionary.law.com/Default.aspx?selected=1086

Posner, R. A. (1990). The problems of jurisprudence. Harvard University Press.

Snell, T. L. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2007). Capital punishment, 2005. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics website: http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cp05.pdf