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A useful description of the American criminal justice process must begin by acknowledging that there is no single set of criminal justice procedures applied uniformly throughout this country. Variations exist both from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from one type of case to another within the same jurisdiction. In our overview, we will take note of a few of the more significant variations, but our primary focus will be on the procedural pattern followed for most cases in most jurisdictions. In this section, we will briefly examine three structural elements that account for many of the variations in the process. If the overview is read with these three elements in mind, the potential for minor or major variations at each of the various steps in the process will be readily apparent.


Use is with the permission of Thomson Reuters. Originally published as Israel, Jerold H. "An Introduction to the American Criminal Justice Process." In The American Criminal Justice Process: Selected Rules, Statutes, and Guidelines. St. Paul, Minn.: West, 1989.