In the United States, there are two main categories of law, criminal law and civil law. These laws are meant to punish wrongdoers or compensate victims of crime.
Civil laws govern behaviors that cause an injury to an individual or another private party using lawsuits. The punishments for parties found liable in civil cases are typically monetary in nature. They can also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions and restraining orders.
Criminal laws, on the other hand, are designed to address behaviors that are considered offenses against society, the state, or the public, even if the victim is an individual. A defendant who is convicted of a crime may be forced to pay criminal fines or may lose their freedom due to a jail sentence or prison sentence.
What Does Criminal Law Procedure Refer to?
Criminal law procedure refers to the way in which a criminal law is applied when a defendant commits a crime and the procedure for providing punishment. Only two entities can bring criminal charges against a defendant, a state government or the federal government.
Whether the defendant is charged in state court or in a federal court depends on the crime charged and the location of the offense. Criminal cases are styled U.S. v. Defendant or State v. Defendant, depending on which entity is bringing the charges.
Every state has its own set of criminal laws. Every defendant, however, has Constitutional rights which apply no matter what crime is charged or where it occurred.
These Constitutional rights include:
- The right to a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial in order to prevent the defendant from being kept in jail for an extended period of time without adjudication;
- The right to a trial by jury, also guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment. Many jurisdictions allow a defendant to waive a jury trial and request a bench trial, where their guilt is determined by a judge. This right applies to criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
- Miranda rights, which provide a criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one; and
- Protection against self-incrimination, which is often referred to as pleading the fifth. Pursuant to the Fifth Amendment, the defendant cannot be forced to incriminate themselves on the stand.
What are Some Common Criminal Charges?
Criminal charges range from less serious petty offenses, which may include simple theft, to serious offense, including drug trafficking and murder. The federal courts as well as each state have different classifications of crimes, from misdemeanors to felonies.
The crime with which a defendant may be charged depends on the location of the offense. Criminal laws vary widely by state and may be classified differently in different locations.
Common examples of misdemeanor crimes include:
- Traffic offenses, such as those involving DUI or drunk driving;
- Assault and battery and other minor offenses involving bodily harm;
- Theft, larceny, and similar crimes involving property;
- Possession of a controlled substance and drug crimes;
- Perjury crimes;
- Obscenity and other related crimes; and
- Gun possession violations.
Common examples of felony crimes include:
- Property crimes, which may include grand theft, arson, and vandalism;
- Drug offenses, including distributing, selling, or trafficking drugs;
- Sex crimes, including sexual assault and human trafficking;
- Violent offenses, such as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and robbery; and
- White collar crimes, such as embezzlement, securities fraud, and tax evasion.
It is important to note that felonies are often divided into classes such as Class A, Class 1, etc. Each state may classify their felonies differently, and, therefore, different punishments will occur. For these reasons, is it essential to consult with a criminal defense attorney to determine the exact consequences of a criminal charge.
What are Some Criminal Defenses to Crimes?
There are several commonly used defenses to criminal charges, which include:
- Alibi; and
Self-defense may be presented as a defense when a defendant was not the aggressor. This defense is available when the defendant responded to a threat that caused them to reasonably believe they were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.
If a defendant is suffering from a severe mental illness or defect at the time of the crime, an insanity defense may prevent them from being incarcerated. However, defendants who successfully use this defense are committed to a mental facility for treatment.
Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a criminal charge. However, if the defendant was involuntarily intoxicated, such as unknowingly drugged, it may provide a defense to their criminal charges.
An alibi defense provides a reason why it was impossible for the defendant to commit the crime with which they were charged. For example, if the defendant was charged with a crime in Vermont but was able to prove they were in Florida at the time, this would be an alibi which would likely prevent a conviction because it would have been physically impossible for the defendant to be in both locations and, therefore, impossible to commit the crime.
A mistake of fact may provide a defense against certain crimes. For example, if the defendant grabs another individual’s handbag at a restaurant, mistaking it for their own, they may avoid theft if they can show the wrong bag was taken by mistake.
How Can a Travis County, TX Criminal Lawyer Help?
A Travis County, Texas criminal defense lawyer can provide help to a criminal defendant in many ways. A defendant may be facing a loss of freedom and life-long consequences.
Every criminal defendant and every criminal case present unique circumstances. A Travis County, Texas lawyer will be familiar with the local criminal laws and procedures and will be able to provide the most effective defense.
Does Travis County, TX Have any Unique Criminal Laws?
Yes, there are unique laws in Travis County, Texas and across the State of Texas. One of the most well-known and notable Texas sentences is capital punishment.
Capital punishment is used in 27 states and by the federal government as well as the United States military. The highest rate of death penalty executions in the U.S. is in Texas.
A defendant may be sentenced to the death penalty in Texas if they commit a capital felony, or a crime in which the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another individual under special circumstances, including:
- The murder of a public safety officer or a firefighter in the line of duty;
- Murder during the commission of a felony, including:
- Aggravated rape; and
- Murder for remuneration;
- Multiple murders;
- Murder during a prison escape;
- Murder of a correctional officer;
- Murder of a judge;
- Murder when the defendant is a state prison inmate who is serving a life sentence for any of five offenses; or
- Murder of a victim who is under the age of six.
In Texas, the defendant must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the offense in order to have the death penalty imposed upon them.
Should I Hire a Criminal Lawyer in Travis County, Texas?
Yes, it is essential to hire a criminal defense attorney in Travis County, Texas. If you are facing criminal charges, it may be an extremely intimidating, confusing, and life-altering experience.
Having an attorney on your side to help you through the process is the most important step you can take in your defense. As noted above, criminal charges may involve serious consequences. You are entitled to have an attorney defending you no matter how petty or serious the charges are.