5 Myths About How the Criminal Justice System Works

  • Scope of Work
  • Evidence Processing Speed
  • Expectation of Forensic Evidence
  • Exciting Work
  • Quick Resolutions

Many people become interested in a job in criminal justice through watching movies or TV shows, but there are a number of myths about the criminal justice system that are reinforced by media. Below are five of the most common myths people often take away from these portrayals.

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1. Scope of Work

One of the main complaints by professionals in the field is that the media tends to conflate people who work at the crime scene gathering evidence with the detectives. Crime scene technicians might go to both the scene of the crime and work in the lab, but they are generally not deeply involved in investigations. Crime scene officers may be skilled at collecting evidence, but they do not usually turn around and analyze the DNA they gathered there.

2. Evidence Processing Speed

Another common myth about the criminal justice system is that once that evidence is gathered, it can be processed in a matter of hours. On occasion, it is possible to get some evidence processed in days for certain types of cases, but it is much more common for processing to take weeks or even months. Some of this is due to an ongoing backlog at the lab, but in some cases, the work itself simply takes a long time.

3. Expectation of Forensic Evidence

In a paper that was published by the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal, a number of myths about the criminal justice system were explored including the fact that juries often expect there to be more forensic evidence in real-life cases than is common. Jurors also tend to expect that the evidence that does exist will be more conclusive. This creates an additional burden of proof for prosecutors.

4. Exciting Work

Despite the dramatic circumstances around crime scenes, the work of gathering and analyzing forensic evidence is rarely as interesting as it looks in the media. The process takes a lot of time and everything must be documented correctly. Since it is not clear at such an early stage what may be important, those on the scene must be thorough. Precision and taking accurate measurements are all important but not very exciting elements of the work. Attorneys, police officers and others in the criminal justice system also spend a great deal of time doing paperwork and other time-consuming tasks.

5. Quick Resolutions

Just as evidence is analyzed quickly in the world of crime on TV, cases are wrapped up fast. However, this is another myth about how the criminal justice system operates. The process of building a case is a slow one and rests on more than just the forensic evidence, so even if that is processed quickly, it can take weeks, months or even years to get a resolution. Once an investigation is complete, attorneys must also take their time preparing a case.

Working in criminal justice is a career that can be rewarding and, at times, exciting. But people hoping to go into the field should prepare themselves for the difference between myths about the criminal justice system and reality.