opinion | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Law

In criminal justice, an opinion is a judge’s written explanation of a court’s decision.

In the world of criminal justice, the term “opinion” carries significant weight. Both a judgment and a roadmap, it serves as a guide to what the court has decided and why. This document is often written by one of the judges involved in the case.

Why Opinions Matter

These decisions matter for a variety of reasons. First, they provide an in-depth explanation of the decision. They don’t just say what the court decided but also why. These documents break down the thought process, laying out the logic and reasoning used. Above all, this helps ensure the legal process is transparent and understandable.

Secondly, they set precedents for future cases. If a similar case arises in the future, lawyers and judges can refer to past opinions to guide their decisions. This principle, known as “stare decisis,” is a cornerstone of the common law legal system. In this way, opinions help shape the law itself.

Structure of an Opinion

A legal opinion usually contains several key sections. The “Facts” section explains the background of the case, while the “Issue” part identifies the legal question at hand. Next, the “Rule” section outlines the laws or past cases relevant to the issue. The “Application” section then applies these laws to the facts of the case. Lastly, the “Conclusion” summarizes the court’s decision and the reasoning behind it.

Different Types of Opinions

Not all opinions are the same. The majority opinions reflect the views of most of the judges on the case. These are the decisions that become law. Conversely, a dissenting opinion represents a judge’s disagreement with the majority. This judge thinks the court should have decided differently. Even though dissenting opinions don’t become law, they are still important. After all, they can influence future cases or spark changes in the law.

In addition to these, there may also be concurring opinions. These represent judges who agree with the majority decision but for different reasons. These judges write separate opinions to outline their distinct viewpoints.

Opinions in Criminal Justice

In criminal justice, these opinions help to shape our understanding of the law. For example, if a law is unclear or vague, the court’s opinion can clarify its meaning. Similarly, if there’s a dispute over how to interpret the law, the opinion can guide future interpretations.

Overall, the role of an opinion in criminal justice is fundamental. Whether in setting precedents or providing clarity, these documents play an integral part in the administration of justice. They ensure that decisions are transparent, accountable, and well-grounded in law.

The Impact of Court Opinions on Police Procedure

Court opinions shape police procedures in several ways. Both directly and indirectly, these written explanations of court decisions influence how law enforcement operates.

Firstly, they often interpret laws that directly govern police conduct. For example, rules about when and how police can search a person or their property are frequently clarified in these documents. If a court decides that a certain police practice violates the law, departments must adjust their procedures accordingly.

A landmark case that demonstrates this is Mapp v. Ohio (1961). In this case, the Supreme Court’s opinion established the “exclusionary rule,” which prevents evidence gathered in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights from being used in state courts. This decision profoundly impacted police procedure. It reinforced the necessity for police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search, ensuring adherence to the Fourth Amendment.

Secondly, they can also influence police practices indirectly through public opinion. A court opinion that criticizes a specific police action might not change the law, but it could sway public opinion and lead to calls for policy change. Law enforcement agencies, aware of their role in serving the community, often respond to these shifts in public sentiment.

Moreover, dissenting opinions, even though they do not establish law, can still impact police procedure. They may point out potential issues or complications in the law, prompting police departments to modify their policies to avoid legal controversy in the future.

After all, the goal of any police department is to enforce the law in a manner that is just, fair, and respectful of individuals’ rights. Court decisions play a crucial role in defining what this looks like in practice, helping to guide police conduct to align with legal standards and societal expectations.


All in all, an opinion in criminal justice is a judge’s written explanation of the court’s decision. It is a crucial document that not only explains a ruling but also shapes future cases. It’s an essential component of the legal system, reflecting both the outcome of a case and the reasoning behind it.

Learn More

On Other Sites

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 07/11/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.