1.7. The Crime Control and Due Process Models

Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean

Crime Control and Due Process Model 

The criminal justice system can be quite complicated, especially in the attempt to punish offenders for wrongs committed. Society expects the system to be efficient and quick, while also sufficiently protecting the rights of individual defendants. Ultimately, the system must strike a balance between these goals, but it can be challenging to control crime and quickly punish offenders, while also ensuring our constitutional rights are not infringed upon while delivering justice.

In the 1960s, legal scholar Herbert L. Packer theorized two models which represented the dual expectations of the criminal justice system. These two models can be seen as competing for dominance in the United States, but we will discuss how these models can be merged or balanced to work together. The tension between these models lies in the values they emphasize, as shown in their names: the crime control model and the due process model. [1]

The crime control model focuses on having an efficient system, with the most important function being the suppression and punishment of crime, ensuring that society is safe and orderly. Under this model, controlling crime is more important than protecting criminal suspects’ rights, a perspective that is more aligned with conservative politics. In order to protect society and make sure individuals feel free from the threat of crime, the crime control model advocates for the swift and severe punishment for offenders. Under this model, the justice process may ideally represent an ‘assembly-line’: law enforcement apprehends suspects; the courts determine guilt; and guilty people receive appropriately tough punishments through the correctional system. [2] The crime control model may appreciate plea bargains, because trials may take too much time and slow down the process.

The due process model focuses on having a just and fair criminal justice system for all, which does not infringe upon suspects’ constitutional rights. Further, this model argues that the system should be more like an ‘obstacle course,’ than an ‘assembly line.’ Overall, the due process model privileges the protection of individual rights and freedoms, and is seen as more aligned with a liberal political perspective. [3]There are several pros and cons to each models; however, there are certain groups and individuals that side with one more often than the other. The notion that these models may fall along political lines is often based on the perceived party alignment of court decisions, as well as political campaigns in the U.S. The crime control model promotes policies that claim to “get tough”, expand police powers, increase prison sentences, or make correctional institutions more unpleasant. The due process model promotes policies that delegate power to other first responders (such as crisis intervention teams), curb prosecutorial discretion, and emphasize offender rehabilitation. These rights may include requiring police to inform people under arrest that they do not have to answer questions with an attorney (Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966), providing all defendants with an attorney (Gideon v. Wainwright, decided in 1963), or throwing out police evidence seized without a valid warrant (Mapp v. Ohio, decided 1961).

To state that crime control is purely conservative and due process is purely liberal would be too simplistic, but to recognize that the policies are a reflection of our current political climate is relevant. If Americans are fearful of crime, and Gallup polls suggest they are, politicians may propose policies that focus on controlling crime. However, if polls suggest police have too many powers that can lead to abuse, then politicians may propose policies that limit their actions or authority. [4] Again, this may reflect a societal consensus, the feelings of some social groups, or the interests of a political party or specific politician.

In the News

Most people would agree that the death penalty represents the most severe punishment an individual can face in the United States, and as such, would be endorsed by proponents of the “crime control” model. However, the imposition of the death penalty for individuals thus sentenced is hardly swift or certain; in fact, it has been estimated that the average time between a sentence of death and actual execution is nearly 19 years! [5]

In your opinion, how might this delay between offender sentencing and execution effect the death penalty’s ability to suppress crime? Does this delay effectively uphold, or undermine, individual offender’s rights to humane punishment? Consider the case of Scott Dozier, who sat on death row in Nevada for over a decade, before finally committing suicide in prison. How might this case inform the recalibration, or cooperation, of the two models discussed above? Read more here: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/01/18/the-volunteer

  1. Packer, H. (1964). Two models of the criminal process. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 113(1)
  2. Roach, K. (1999). Four models of the criminal process. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 89(2), 671-716.
  3. Yerkes, M. (1969). The limits of the criminal sanction, by Herbert L. Packer (1968). Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 176, 2(1). 
  4. Brenan, M. (2022). Worry about crime in U.S. at highest level since 2016. Gallup Poll. https://news.gallup.com/poll/391610/worry-crime-highest-level-2016.aspx
  5. Snell, T. (2021) Capital Punishment, 2019 - Statistical Tables. U.S. Department of Justice.


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1.7. The Crime Control and Due Process Models Copyright © 2019 by Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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