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Federalization of Local Criminal Justice Procedure: A Study of Conflicts in Values and Process
International Journal of the Sociology of Law (2001)
  • Kam C. Wong

This article is an investigation into why the U.S. federal courts have failed to effectively control local police conduct by means of constitutional rules. In so doing, the article finds that the federal courts’ approach to the control of police abuse of power – federalization and constiotutionalization of criminal procedures – is ill informed of the nature and essence of police work within the community context and at the grassroots level. Particularly, it fails to take into account the structural and normative forces giving rise to police abuse. The central thesis of this paper is that the federal courts’ constitutional suspervision of local police conduct is at odd with the police's operational reality and functional requirements, as reflecting entrenched local customs, shifting community expectations and contingent situational circcumstances. The courts’ right-based approach is in sharp contrast with the police's utilitarian method. At a more structural level, traditionally and by design, the court is made to stand aloof from the people. The police is required to stay in touch with the people. One of the main purpose of this paper is thus to illuminate the differences in decision-making process and clarify observable disparity in constitutional value preferences between the federal courts and the local police. This will be discussed in the context of police civil liability under Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The article concludes in observing that the federal courts and the local police, though housed under the same criminal justice system, are two distinctive social control institutions, each with its own political legitimacy base and social utility functions, They share different values, orientation, allegiance and thinking process. These differences, more so than other behavioral or organization factors, accounted for much of the observed police misconduct to date.

  • Police Accountability,
  • Constitutional Law,
  • Fourth Amendment
Publication Date
Fall 2001
Citation Information
Kam C. Wong. "Federalization of Local Criminal Justice Procedure: A Study of Conflicts in Values and Process" International Journal of the Sociology of Law Vol. Vol. 29 Iss. 3 (2001)
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