Managing Your Court Case

What Defendants Must Understand America's Adversarial Criminal Law System

The American system of criminal law is an adversarial one. Defendants need to be acutely aware of this fact whenever they deal with the police, prosecutors, and other agents and designees of the government. That fact applies to government officials at the local, state, and federal levels, too.

Why is this so important? Let's look at what it means for criminal law to be adversarial and how it might apply to your situation.


A system is adversarial when there are at least two sides. These two sides operate like opponents in a sporting event. One side wins, and the other loses. Also, the prosecutor is intent on being on the winning side.

Truth and Justice Aren't the Goals

Not all criminal law systems work this way. There are countries where the equivalent of a prosecutor has a duty to find the truth regardless of whether it counts as a win for the state or not.

Even if all you know about criminal law comes from watching TV or movies, you probably know that's not how America works. In the U.S., a prosecutor tries to convict the defendant. If the state has a case it believes it can charge and take to a guilty plea or conviction, there's a good chance the government will pursue it. The defendant's best recourse is to hire a criminal law attorney and push back.

Protect Your Constitutional Rights

Your rights are typically your best defense. An American has a right to demand to see what evidence the prosecution has against them. Likewise, they have a right to take their concerns about the case before a judge and ask the court to fix the situation. If they don't get satisfaction soon enough, a defendant has the right to a trial by a jury of their peers.

It's important to understand that your rights are universal and travel with you in all circumstances. Suppose a police officer insists they have the right to administer a blood test because they believe you are on drugs. You have to assert your right against this sort of invasion of your body.

Even if asserting your rights doesn't stop the cop's actions, it puts them on the record. You can then tell a judge the officer violated your rights and ask the court to dismiss the charges.

It's your job to assert these rights, though. Don't expect the cops or prosecutors to protect them. It's an adversarial system, and you must always assume any help beyond yourself will only come in the form of a criminal law attorney.

For more information, contact a criminal law attorney in your area.