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Criminal Justice Careers

Comparing Careers in Criminal Justice


a gavel and law books
(c) Erick Jones / istockphoto
Are you thinking about pursuing a career in criminal justice? There are several paths you can take. The criminal justice field encompasses law, mental health, law enforcement and science careers. Let's take a look at some of those options.


Attorneys who work in criminal justice are either prosecuting attorneys or criminal defense attorneys. Prosecuting attorneys present evidence in court that they hope will lead to the conviction of defendents in criminal cases. Criminal defense attorneys defend their clients from these charges and make sure their legal rights are protected. To become a lawyer one must attend law school for three years after earning a bachelor's degree. After graduation, one must be admitted to the bar in the state in which he or she wants to practice. This requires passing a written examination and, depending on the state, sometimes an ethics exam as well. Attorneys earned a median annual salary of $113,240 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming an Attorney

Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists use their training in psychology to assist lawyers and judges in criminal and civil cases. They perform psychological assessments and interpret and present their findings, sometimes as courtroom testimony. To work as a forensic psychologist one must earn a PhD in psychology or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) and receive specialized training in forensic psychology. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide separate salary information for forensic psychologists. They instead provide general data for clinical, counseling and school psychologists who they report earned a median salary of $66,040 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Forensic Psychologists

Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. To become a forensic scientist one must complete at least two years of specialized training or earn an associate degree in applied science or science-related technology. Forensic scientists' median annual salary, as of 2009, was $51,480.
Learn More About Becoming a Forensic Scientist

Special Agent

Special agents work for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, looking for violations of laws. They gather facts and collect evidence. While some agencies will hire job candidates with a only a high school diploma, others, like the US government, require a bachelor's degree, or at least some college coursework. Special agents earned a median annual salary of $62,110 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Special Agent

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ and
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/ (visited March 18, 2011).

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Comparing Criminal Justice Careers
 Minimum EducationLicenseMedian Salary
Attorney Law school to earn a JDMust pass state bar exam$113,240
Forensic PsychologistsPhD or PsyDAll states req. license or certification$66,040
Forensic Scientist2 yrs. specialized training or an associate degreeNone$51,480
Special AgentVaries from HS diploma to bachelor's degreeNone$62,110

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