According to US law, there are two bodies of laws that are intended to punish wrongdoing, or to compensate victims of those wrongdoings. The former is referred to as criminal law while the latter is referred to as civil law. While civil law is concerned with behavior resulting in the injury of another person, criminal law is designed to address behavior that is considered to be an offense against society.
This definition of criminal law may extend to cover offenses against the state or the public as well. Such is true even when the victim is an individual person. A person who is convicted under criminal law could face fines in addition to a jail sentence, or prison time.
In terms of function, there are a few essential functions to criminal law:
- Maintaining order;
- Resolving disputes by providing a legal framework as guidance;
- Protecting individuals and their property;
- Enables the government to collect taxes; and
- Protecting some individual rights.
What Is Criminal Law Procedure? How Does it Work?
Regardless of if someone is being charged with a serious crime, or a minor crime, the accused person still has the right to a trial. This is in addition to other certain other legal protections. There are only two bodies which may bring a criminal case against someone: the federal government, or a state’s government.
Because of this, there are cases stylized as US v. Someone or State v. Someone. Whether the accused is charged in federal court or in a state court will depend on what crime they are being charged with. Additionally, where the alleged offense occurred will determine charging and sentencing.
Each state has its own set of criminal laws. However, there are some specific Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened. Such constitutional rights include:
- The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. This is in order to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
- The Right to a Jury: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions will allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt or innocence is only determined by a judge. However, this is the defendant’s choice only; and, this right is universal with criminal prosecution only. Meaning, civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights, so it may not be possible for a defendant to waive a jury;
- Miranda Rights: Miranda rights are what give the criminal defendant access to an attorney, whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense. Additionally, Miranda Rights provide the criminal defendant with the right to remain silent; and
- Protection Against Self-Incrimination: This is also known as “pleading the fifth.” As a Constitutional protection, a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest. There are several ways in which to interpret the 5th Amendment, such as how the prosecution and judge are not to infer that refusal to testify signals that the individual is guilty.
What Happens in a Criminal Trial?
As every jurisdiction has their own procedural rules, the steps and timing of a criminal trial can vary greatly. Generally speaking, all trials are generally broken into two phases: the guilt phase, and the sentencing phase.
During the guilt phase, the prosecutor and the defense present elements to prove that the defendant’s behavior has or has not met all the elements of that particular criminal charge. The prosecutor must:
- Show beyond a reasonable doubt (the highest burden of proof in American law),
- That the person committed the actus reus (criminal activity); and
- With the proper mens rea (mental state or intent required by the charge).
If the judge and/or jury finds that all these elements have been satisfied, they may then declare the defendant as guilty of the crime they are being charged with.
The next phase is known as the sentencing phase. During the sentencing phase, the judge and/or jury consider either state or federal law that dictates the punishment range for the crime (or crimes) the defendant was convicted of. The judge and/or jury will look at many different factors, such as:
- Previous criminal history;
- Aggravating factors;
- Mitigating factors; and
- Various other pertinent facts in order to determine the person’s punishment.
It is only once both phases are completed that a convicted individual will officially receive their punishment. Punishments generally include fines, prison time, or both.
What Examples of Crimes Can Someone Be Convicted Of?
In the United States, the following crimes are the most common criminal offenses as noted by the FBI and criminal records:
- Larceny and/or theft;
- Motor vehicle theft;
- Aggravated assault; and
A criminal record is used to document a person’s criminal history, and is updated by various local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. This information is most commonly shared with other, similar law enforcement agencies, in addition to generally being made publicly available. Criminal records are utilized for many purposes. Some examples include but may not be limited to:
- Identification checks;
- Employment background checks;
- Security clearance;
- Adoption proceedings;
- International travel and/or visa purposes;
- Assisting in compiling a suspect list; and
- Enhanced sentencing in terms of criminal prosecutions.
Criminal acts are classified from less serious and petty offenses, such as simple theft, to the most serious of offenses, such as drug trafficking and murder. Every jurisdiction as well as federal courts classify these crimes differently, from misdemeanors and disorderly conduct charges to felony crimes.
What crime a person may be charged with depends on where the crime was committed. There may be some confusion regarding whether the offense will be charged under state law, or under federal law.
Are There Any Unique Criminal Laws in Atlanta, Georgia?
Many states have unique criminal statutes which may seem unusual to those outside of the state. An example of this would be how Massachusetts criminal law outlaws dueling. The state has two types of assault and battery: one relates to general assault and battery, while the other one is related to debt collecting.
These laws are considerably specific, and may not be found in other parts of the country. As such, it is important to check your local laws in order to determine whether your criminal actions fall under a specific statute that you may not be aware of.
It is important to note that many of these strange and obscure laws are outdated, and are rarely enforced. That being said, some unique criminal laws in Atlanta, Georgia include the following:
- A man may not give another man a piggyback ride;
- A person may not hold a donkey in their bathtub;
- In the city of Columbus, you may not cuss over the telephone;
- A person may not offer a goldfish as a prize for bingo; and
- It is illegal to sell beer in a two-for-one special.
Should I Hire an Atlanta Criminal Law Attorney?
If you are facing criminal charges, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine which specific laws may apply to your case, and therefore what defenses may be available to you based on your circumstances.
If you are in Atlanta, you should hire an Atlanta criminal law attorney as a local attorney will be more knowledgeable in terms of state and local law variances. In any case, a criminal law attorney will represent you in court as needed and work to reduce any possible sentencing when feasible.