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Portal:Criminal justice

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United States criminal justice system flowchart.

Criminal justice is the delivery of justice to those who have committed crimes. The criminal justice system is a series of government agencies and institutions whose goal is to identify and catch the law-breakers and to inflict a form of punishment on them. Other goals include the rehabilitation of offenders, preventing other crimes, and moral support for victims. The primary institutions of the criminal justice system are the police, prosecution and defense lawyers, the courts and prisons.

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The Red Barn, scene of the murder
The Red Barn Murder was a notorious murder committed in Suffolk, England in 1827. A young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder, the son of the local squire. The two had arranged to meet at the Red Barn, a local landmark, before eloping to Ipswich in order to be married. Maria was never heard from again. Corder fled the scene and although he sent Marten's family letters claiming she was in good health, her body was later discovered buried in the barn after her stepmother claimed to have dreamt about the murder. Corder was tracked down in London, where he had married and started a new life. He was brought back to Suffolk, and, after a well-publicised trial, found guilty of murder. He was hanged in Bury St. Edmunds in 1828; the execution was watched by a huge crowd. The story provoked numerous articles in the newspapers, and songs and plays. The village where the crime had taken place became a tourist attraction and the barn was stripped by souvenir hunters. The plays and ballads remained popular throughout the next century and continue to be performed today.

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Wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth
Credit: United States Department of War

The wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth (center) and his co-conspirators John Surratt (left) and David Herold (right), following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Booth, one of the most popular actors of his day and an outspoken advocate of the Confederacy, originally planned to kidnap Lincoln, but after that plan failed, plotted to kill the President upon hearing Lincoln's plan to give suffrage to former slaves. Herold was supposedly to have killed Vice President Andrew Johnson at the same time, but this attack was never carried out. After the assassination, Herold and Booth fled to a farmhouse in Virginia where they were discovered by Union Army soldiers on April 26. Booth was shot and killed, but Herold surrendered and was later executed for his actions. Surratt, meanwhile, had been involved in the kidnapping plot, but not the assassination attempt. He fled the country and was arrested in Vatican City, but was never convicted on any charges relating to the shooting.


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Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz (b. 1929) was a senior Argentine police officer, who worked in the Buenos Aires Provincial Police during the first years of the military dictatorship known as the National Reorganization Process. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006, on charges of homicide, illegal deprivation of freedom (kidnapping), and torture. The tribunal, besides passing the sentence, stated that Etchecolatz's crimes were "crimes against humanity in the context of the genocide that took place in Argentina". The term "genocide" was thus employed for the first time in the official treatment of "Dirty War" crimes, as requested by the accusers. The "Dirty War" was a series of the atrocities committed under the military dictatorship of Argentina during 1976 to 1983. The dictatorship began with a coup d'état against President Isabel Peron followed by the accession of a military junta led by General Jorge Rafael Videla. During military rule, thousands of political dissidents were either killed or went into "forced disappearance".

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Denis Diderot
Anyone who takes it on himself, on his own authority, to break a bad law, thereby authorizes everyone else to break the good ones.

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