criminal justice funnel | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

The criminal justice funnel is an analogy that uses a funnel to demonstrate a wide entry point and a much, much smaller exit point representing many crimes and very few resulting prison sentences.

The criminal justice funnel is an analogy used to describe the diminishing number of cases as they move through the various stages of the criminal justice system. At the top of the funnel are all the reported crimes, while at the bottom are the relatively few individuals who are ultimately convicted and sentenced to prison. The funnel is widest at the entry point, where a vast array of crimes are reported to law enforcement. As the cases move through the system, they are filtered out at various stages, with many being dismissed outright or never making it to court.

The first stage of the funnel is the reporting of a crime to law enforcement. Many crimes are never reported, either because the victim is afraid to come forward or because the crime is relatively minor and the victim does not see the point of reporting it. Even when a crime is reported, it may not result in an arrest or charges being filed. For example, if the evidence is weak or there are conflicting witness statements, the police may decide not to pursue the case further.

Assuming that charges are filed, the next stage is the pretrial process. This is where the prosecutor reviews the evidence and decides whether or not to proceed with the case. Again, many cases are filtered out at this stage, as the prosecutor may determine that the evidence is insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assuming that the case proceeds to trial, the next stage is the trial itself. Here, the prosecution must convince a jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if the evidence is strong, the defendant may be acquitted if the jury is not convinced of guilt. Alternatively, the defendant may plead guilty in exchange for a plea bargain, which can reduce the charges or sentence.

Finally, assuming that the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the last stage is sentencing. Here, the judge decides on the appropriate punishment, which may include probation, fines, or imprisonment. The vast majority of criminal cases result in probation or fines, with only a relatively small percentage resulting in prison sentences.

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Last Modified: 04/07/2023

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