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Your Final Research Paper is due to Canvas by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, June 2 and is worth 140 points.

Papers must be more than two and fewer than five pages, single spaced, and typed at 12-point font of Times New Roman or Calibri.

You will need to rely on and cite to at least two credible sources using an  or  citation format. Sources could be a combination of books, academic articles, news articles, podcasts, documentaries, and websites.

You are being asked to research and write on an issue related to the concept of building legitimacy within the American criminal justice system, whether related to the police, courts, or corrections.

In political science, legitimacy is the right and acceptance of an authority, usually a government or law.  An authority viewed as legitimate often has the right and justification to exercise power. Political legitimacy is considered a basic condition for governing, without which a government will decline to a point of non-functioning.

There are many examples in the textbook or Summary Readings related to legitimacy. Here are examples to help you get started (or even to offer a pre-set topic); the more focused your thesis or topic, the better the research and writing. I am happy to brainstorm anytime; let me know.

  • Due process rights for the criminally accused under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, or Eighth Amendments are meant to create legitimacy for the government, specifically as it relates to the operation of police, prosecutors, and courts against any one individual. Further, these rights change over time to maintain legitimacy as societal perspective shifts. You could focus on any one of our key due process rights. I am personally obsessed with the Fourth Amendment and how to keep the police at a reasonable distance. This distance itself creates legitimacy, without which, we could not call the U.S. a democracy.


  • One of the goals of courts is to do justice and appear to do justice. There are many potential areas of research and writing that relate to this. Students often focus on the role of defense attorneys and prosecutors or issues of justice for indigent suspects. For example, those with fewer financial resources in the criminal justice system end up with worse outcomes than those with money. This could be that low income individuals feel disempowered when negotiating with the prosecutor and may take a plea deal over potentially other, better choices. Related to economic status, there is the issue of people being detained pre-trial for months for the mere fact they cannot afford bail. One research question might be: How could we setup a system of public defense that would ensure that our fundamental due process rights are upheld. 


  • The police are currently undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. Our book discusses the history of police in the U.S., including one that is connected to our history of slavery. The book then goes on to discuss the recruitment, training, and oversight of police. Along the way, we looked briefly at the role of police unions in limiting police accountability to the public. All of this relates to the question of how police can ensure that communities trust in them; that communities believe the police exercise of power is legitimate. There is further discussion of police discretion and the standard for using excessive or deadly force. Every time a police officer harasses, brutalizes, or kills someone, society must seek to justify or legitimize this behavior or criminally punish the police officer whose behavior was not justified. Any one of these topics is relevant for research and writing.


  • The book also presents information on the rationale of punishment, including retribution and rehabilitation, as well as the different sentencing frameworks. In my opinion, the power we give the state to incarcerate (to remove someone from society), monitor extensively through system of probation, or kill someone (capital punishment), requires an immense amount of legitimacy. What is the source of this legitimacy or how do we create legitimacy where there is none.


Your paper should include the following key areas:

  1. Start with a statement of the problem.  Discuss the significance of the problem.  Use narratives, studies, and statistics to illustrate your points.
  2. Include an analysis of the causes or factors which contribute to the problem. You should be able to find this information in journal articles that you review.
  3. Identify and evaluate potential solutions to the problem; this part of your paper should demonstrate your robust critical reasoning skills. (This is where you should put your energies!)
  4. Conclude which solution or approach you think is best and why.