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Criminal Courts

Criminal Courts
A Contemporary Perspective

Fourth Edition

February 2019 | 456 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Written by three nationally recognized experts in the field, Criminal Courts: A Contemporary Perspective explores all the fundamental topics (court structure, courtroom actors, and the trial and appeals process) as well as other ground-breaking topics, such as specialty courts and comparative court systems. This bestseller provides students with a foundation for understanding key concepts by reviewing the judicial function, the role and purpose of law, sources of law, the various types of law, and the American court system’s structure and operations. Students build on this foundation by learning about participants in the system and the pretrial, trial, and post-trial processes. 

Packed with contemporary examples and new pedagogical tools, the Fourth Edition has been thoroughly revised with the most up-to-date content and resources to give students a more comprehensive understanding of the criminal courts system.

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About the Authors
SECTION I: The Purpose and Structure of American Courts
CHAPTER 1: Introduction: Law and the Judicial Function
Why Study Courts?

What Is Law?

The Code of Hammurabi

Two Opposing Perspectives: Consensus and Conflict

What Is the Relationship of Law to Justice?

The Rule of Law

Justice, the Law, and Packer’s Models of Criminal Justice

Two Models of Criminal Justice

Judicial Functions

How Judges “Make Law”

Development of the Common-Law System

The Role of Courts in the Criminal Justice System

CHAPTER 2: Sources of Law
Sources of Law

Sources of Individual Rights

Standard of Review

Incorporation of the Bill of Rights Into the Fourteenth Amendment

CHAPTER 3: Types of Law
Types of Law: Criminal and Civil

CHAPTER 4: Court Organization and Structure

The Structure and Jurisdiction of U.S. Courts

A Brief Historical Overview

Federal Courts

State Courts

Court Actors

Overview of the Criminal Process

SECTION II: Courtroom Actors and the Courtroom Workgroup
CHAPTER 5: Prosecutors
Historical Evolution of the American Prosecutor

The Federal Prosecutor

State Prosecutors

The Prosecutor’s Duties

Assistant Prosecutors at Work

The Expansion of the Prosecutor’s Discretionary Power

Prosecutorial Ethics and Misconduct

Community Prosecution

CHAPTER 6: Defense Attorneys
Defense Attorney’s Role in the Criminal Justice System

Historical Development of the Right to Counsel

Indigent Defense Systems

Private Versus Appointed Counsel: Which Is Better?

Effective Assistance of Counsel

Ethics and Lawyer–Client Relationships

Realities of Being a Defense Attorney

CHAPTER 7: Judges
Roles and Duties of Judges

Judicial Selection

Judicial Socialization and Development

Judicial Accountability and Judicial Independence

Judicial Performance Evaluations

Accountability for Judicial Misconduct

CHAPTER 8: Criminal Defendants and Crime Victims
Criminal Defendants

Victims and the Criminal Courts

CHAPTER 9: The Jury
History of Jury Trials

The Role of the Jury

Limits on the Right to Trial by Jury

Jury Size and Unanimity Requirements

The Selection of Jurors

Reforms to the Jury System

Jury Nullification

SECTION III: Court Processes
CHAPTER 10: Pretrial Procedures


The Charging Decision



Initial Appearance



Pretrial Motions

Plea Bargaining

Jury Selection

CHAPTER 11: The Criminal Trial
Opening Statements

The Presentation of Evidence

Calling Witnesses

Evidence and Rules of Evidence

Closing Arguments

Instructing the Jury

Jury Deliberations and Verdict

Wrongful Conviction and Exoneration of the Innocent

CHAPTER 12: Sentencing
The Goals of Sentencing

The Judge’s Options at Sentencing

How Do Judges Decide? Modeling the Sentencing Process

CHAPTER 13: The Appellate Process
Appealing to a Higher Court

The Appellate Courts

The “Right” to Appeal

The Writ of Habeas Corpus

How Do Appellate Courts Decide?

CHAPTER 14: Specialized Courts
Problem-Solving Courts

Drug Treatment Courts

Domestic Violence Courts

Other Problem-Solving Courts

Juvenile Courts

References and Suggested Reading
Case Index
General Index


Student Study Site

SAGE edge for students enhances learning, is easy to use, and offers:

  • an open-access site that makes it easy for students to maximize their study time, anywhere, anytime;
  • eFlashcards that strengthen understanding of key terms and concepts;
  • eQuizzes that allow students to practice and assess how much they’ve learned and where they need to focus their attention;
  • carefully selected video and multimedia links that enhance classroom-based exploration of key topics; and
  • exclusive access to influential SAGE journal and reference content that ties important research and scholarship to chapter concepts to strengthen learning.
Instructor Resource Site

SAGE edge for instructors supports your teaching by making it easy to integrate quality content and create a rich learning environment for students with:

  • a password-protected site for complete and protected access to all text-specific instructor resources; 
  • test banks that provide a diverse range of ready-to-use options that save you time. You can also easily edit any question and/or insert your own personalized questions;
  • editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides that offer complete flexibility for creating a multimedia presentation for your course;
  • exclusive access to influential full-text SAGE journal articles, which have been carefully selected to tie important research and scholarship to chapter concepts;
  • lecture notes that summarize key concepts by chapter to help you prepare for lectures and class discussions; and
  • a course cartridge for easy LMS integration.

“Straightforward, easy for students to understand, and spotlights all the critical stages in the criminal justice process timeline.”

Barbara B. Koehler
Metropolitan State University of Denver

“This is a great lower-level text for a court process class that offers a well-rounded introduction to the court process, structure, and relevant issues today. It is also priced well compared to other notable texts in the market.”

Danielle M. Romain
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

“Very informative text written by well-respected names. Covers all of the expected content in a criminal courts text in a way that engages students.”

Elizabeth B. Perkins
Morehead State University

A very well done book on criminal courts—one that rivals the other texts that may be commonly used. I like many of the features: it is easy to follow, has great interface, and is up-to-date, including a lot of newer information.”

Ross Allen
Rutgers University-Camden

[Criminal Courts] does a better job of covering the subject matter of an introductory course on law and torts. It does not overwhelm students with lists of cases. It provides specific information in each chapter in the form of boxes that present additional information in a concise and direct manner. Topics include comparative courts, examination of current controversies, movies and courts, and a view of the court system from participants.”

Raymond L. Hasselman
Northeastern State University

This is a great book for giving an overview of the criminal justice system. It's a great introduction to a system that can be confusing for students. The cases that are cited are relevant and interesting.

Professor Jennifer Fransen
Political Science Dept, University Of Kentucky
March 15, 2021
Key features


  • A new feature examines Key Cases that have impacted the courts, such as Manuel v. City of Joliet, Illinois, et al. (2017) regarding Fourth Amendment rights, and Rippo v. Baker (2017) related to the importance of judicial impartiality.
  • Many new Current Controversies are examined, such as the changing laws on marijuana usage, the recent addition of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, prosecutorial discretion, and the balance between victims’ rights and defendants’ rights.
  • Coverage of important topics affecting the court system includes the death penalty, court-administered bail, domestic violence courts, race and waiver to adult court, and new research on habeas corpus and the effect of attorney type on bail decisions..
  • The latest cases, data, and research have been updated throughout to provide students with an accurate view of the court system today.


  • View From the Field features topics from the perspective of a participant in the process, from a criminal defense attorney to a U.S. District Court judge.
  • Current Controversy boxes provide balanced views of current issues, encouraging classroom discussion and sparking student interest.
  • Comparative Perspective inserts provide students with a glimpse of how courts around the world approach a topic discussed in the chapter.
  • Current Research boxes present current social science research and show how research can help policymakers and those in the court system evaluate and implement processes and programs.
  • A Movies and the Courts boxed feature engages students in examining myths about the criminal courts perpetuated by popular culture.
  • Key Cases are included throughout to offer students insights into crucial SAGE edge provides students helpful tools, including eFlashcards, practice quizzes, and more, in one easy-to-use online environment.
  • SAGE edge provides students helpful tools, including eFlashcards, practice quizzes, and more, in one easy-to-use online environment.


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