Criminal laws are a method of social control by which government designates certain behaviors as contrary to the health, safety, or moral welfare of society. The laws define the conduct and establish penalties for those who violate them. The criminal justice system is law enforcement, courts, and corrections working together to apprehend, convict and sentence, and punish those people convicted of committing crimes.
Moving a High Volume of Cases
Criminal justice experts and scholars have referred to the criminal justice system as a process to deal with offenders. Everyone entering the criminal justice system is not treated the same. The system would be overwhelmed if the large volume of cases it must process were moved through the system without regard to the types or seriousness of the offenses.
Wedding Cake Theory
Samuel Walker studied the criminal justice process and compared it to a four-tiered wedding cake. According to Walker, cases entering the criminal justice system were treated differently according to the tier they occupied on the wedding cake.
The first level at the top of the cake is reserved for high-profile cases. Celebrated cases are those involving the rich, famous, or those individuals with a high media profile. Level-one cases receive all that the criminal justice process has to offer from highly competent legal counsel and expert witnesses to trials and appeals. Cases in the first tier take up a good deal of the time and resources of the system.
Cases on the second level are serious crimes such as:
Level two cases are serious felony offenses that require the full attention of the criminal justice system. Level one and level two cases are handled in the highest criminal courts in the system.
Level three cases are less serious than level two offenses. These cases usually are committed by first offenders or by offenders who are related to or know the victim. Level two offenses are usually resolved through the plea bargaining process rather than through a trial.
Cases on the lowest tier of the wedding cake are nonviolent misdemeanors. These cases are handled by the lowest criminal courts and might involve alternative sentences such as community service.
Assembly Line Justice
According to the wedding cake theory, most cases coming into the system fall into the lowest tier of the cake. At this level, cases can be handled in an assembly line manner to move them through as quickly as possible.