There are two categories of law in the United States which are intended to compensate victims of bad acts or to punish perpetrators. These types of law are known as civil law and criminal law.
Civil laws are intended to deal with behaviors that cause injury to another individual or a other private party through a lawsuit. The consequences for parties found liable for these actions are typically monetary, but may also include a court-ordered remedy such as a restraining order or an injunction.
Criminal laws are designed to deal with behavior which is considered an offense against society, the state, or the public, even when the victim is an individual. If an individual who is charged with a criminal offense, known as a defendant, is convicted of a crime, they may be required to pay fines and may also lose their freedom if they are sentenced to jail or prison time.
Criminal laws cover issues which arise from a law enforcement arrest and investigation based on the suspicion of criminal activity. Criminal laws also address:
- Criminal pleas; and
In criminal cases, whether the defendant is being charged with a serious crime or a minor offense, they have the right to a trial as well as other legal protections. Criminal laws govern issues associated with probation or parole and requests for record sealing or expungement of records.
Crimes are typically broken into numerous general categories, including:
- Personal crimes;
- White-collar crimes; and
- Non-violent crimes.
Categories of offenses differ by state, so it is important to have the assistance of an attorney to determine how the laws of a state apply to an individual’s case.
Categories of criminal offenses include:
- Crimes against a person:
- White collar crimes:
- Non-violent crimes:
- Crimes against property:
In addition, crimes may be classified as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Misdemeanor violations may include a wide range of criminal offenses and violations, including:
- Traffic offenses, especially those involving DUI or drunk driving;
- Assault and battery and other relatively minor offenses involving bodily harm;
- Theft, larceny, and other similar crimes involving property;
- Possession of a controlled substance and other drug crimes;
- Perjury crimes;
- Obscenity and other related crimes; and
- Gun possession violations.
Criminal punishment for misdemeanor crimes typically involves a combination of jail time in a county jail facility and criminal fines. Jail sentences are usually less than one year. Fines are typically less than $1,000.
A felony is usually defined as a criminal offense which results in a prison term of one year or longer. These crimes tend to include elements of violence and are considered harmful or dangerous to society. A felony crime may also include some of the most serious types of crimes a defendant can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson.
Felony crimes generally include:
- Property crimes, such as:
- grand theft;
- arson; and
- Drug offenses, such as distributing, selling, or trafficking drugs;
- Sex crimes, such as sexual assault and human trafficking;
- Violent offenses, such as:
- first-degree murder;
- second-degree murder; and
- robbery; and
- White collar crimes, such as:
- securities fraud; and
- tax evasion.
If a defendant is convicted of a felony, they may be sentenced to a prison term of at least one year or longer. In addition, the fines imposed will be greater than those imposed for misdemeanor convictions.
What is the Process for a Criminal Charge?
There are two entities which can bring a criminal case against a defendant, the federal government and a state government. Criminal cases are typically stylized, or labeled, as United States v. Defendant or State v. Defendant.
Whether a defendant is charged in state court or federal court depends on what crime they are charged with and where the alleged offense occurred. Each state has its own set of criminal laws.
There are, however, certain Constitutional rights which apply to every defendant, no matter the offense of where it occurred. These include:
- The right to a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial to prevent an accused individual from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
- The right to a jury. The Sixth Amendment also guarantees a defendant the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions permit a defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, where guilt is determined by a judge, but this is the defendant’s option. This right applies to criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
- Miranda rights, which stemming from a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
- The protection against self-incrimination, which is known as pleading the fifth. This Constitutional protection dictates that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interests.
What are Possible Criminal Defenses?
An individual who is arrested, accused, and charged with committing a crime becomes a criminal defendant. A defendant is presumed innocent until the prosecution proves that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Possible defenses that may be available to a defendant include, but are not limited to:
What is the Role of Police in Society?
The main role of police, also called law enforcement, in society is to preserve order. The aims of police in society include:
- Enforcing criminal laws;
- Reducing civil disorder; and
- Protecting individuals and their property.
The state may grant certain power to law enforcement so that they are able to fulfill their role in society. These powers may include granting the ability to use legitimate use of force to prevent crime and the power to impose fines for criminal behavior.
Law enforcement also engages in a number of community functions, such as:
- Educational seminars;
- Performing community service; and
- Sponsoring community events and activities.
Law enforcement is a non-military organization which is involved in defending against aggressors. In other words, law enforcement only performs domestic peacekeeping functions and is not involved in international matters.
Each city typically maintains its own police force. The headquarters for a police force is often known as a precinct.
The role of police in criminal cases is to complete tasks including:
- Interviewing witnesses;
- Collecting evidence;
- Typing reports;
- Obtaining warrants;
- Investigating criminal offenses;
- Gathering evidence; and
- Testifying in court regarding criminal offenses, if necessary.
The role of law enforcement in criminal cases will vary depending on the jurisdiction. Law enforcement officers may perform fewer or more duties depending on support staff available as well as the organization of the local District Attorney’s Office.
Who are Considered to be Police or Law Enforcement?
Individuals may often informally refer to different groups of individuals as the police although, technically, they may not be a police force. Pursuant to police laws, groups that are associated with law enforcement include:
- Sheriff’s Deputies;
- Highway Patrol Officers;
- Detectives; and
These types of authority figures often perform similar tasks as police officers and frequently work together with local police forces to further the overall purpose of law enforcement.
Should I Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Yes, it is essential to have the representation of a criminal lawyer for any dealings with the criminal justice system. In many cases, sentencing and punishment for criminals are harsh and may be implemented against adults as well as juveniles.
If you are involved in a criminal or law enforcement process, it can be stressful, demanding, and time consuming, especially if you are charged with a crime. It may also affect your friends and family. Your attorney can review your case, present any available defenses, and represent you any time you are required to appear in court.