Criminal law refers to the body of law dealing with crimes, including actions from theft to murder. This differs from civil law, which is the body of law dealing with conflicts between citizens and/or businesses. This includes an array of issues like personal injury resulting from a car accident and divorce proceedings.
The basic difference between civil and criminal law is that the state brings the lawsuit in a criminal proceeding and an ordinary citizen or business is the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. Penalties also differ between civil and criminal law, whereas guilty criminal defendants generally are sentenced to prison, receive probation, or are ordered to pay hefty court fines.
If a plaintiff wins a civil lawsuit, they will generally win some type of money damages. Injunctions are also common civil damages. In family matters, distribution of marital assets and child custody is often what is in dispute.
By way of example, take the crime of assault. This generally refers to a situation where someone creates a reasonable apprehension of harm to another person, like standing close to them and threatening to hit them with an object they are holding. The criminal approach to assault includes treating it like an attempted battery that can result in jail time, depending on the circumstances.
However, individuals can also file civil lawsuits for the crime of assault in many jurisdictions. The approach here is different because the victim will get money damages for the defendant’s conduct as opposed to possible jail time. If a defendant is found not guilty in a criminal assault proceeding, the victim can still seek legal recourse by way of a civil lawsuit.
Every state has their own unique set of criminal laws. Something legal in one state can be considered illegal in another. Requirements for a crime and penalties can also vary between the states. Massachusetts is one state that has a few peculiar laws.
For example, selling stink bombs is illegal in Massachusetts. So is selling arrowheads for hunting purposes, organizing or participating in a hazing ritual, and failing to report knowledge of a hazing ritual. These are things that are not considered crimes in several other states.
Turning to more violent crimes, Massachusetts outlaws dueling and prize fighting. The laws also distinguishes between assault and battery conducted for purposes of collecting a loan from general assault and battery. Each of these are considered separate crimes and carry their own unique penalties.
All of this demonstrates the importance of knowing what is considered a crime in your state. This is especially critical for individuals who recently moved from another state. For example, say a weapons dealer previously lived in a state where selling arrowheads was legal. They would need to become familiar with Massachusetss hunting sale laws in order to avoid criminal charges and punishment.
As with every state, Massachusetts handles criminal punishment on their own terms. For example, this state allowed capital punishment from the 1600s up until 1984. There have been several attempts to reinstate capital punishment, but none have passed to date. However, if the crime occurs in Massachusett and falls under federal jurisdiction the defendant can still face capital punishment depending on the crime committed.
Another interesting thing about criminal punishment in Massachusetts is how criminals are treated after being released from prison. Felons lose their right to vote while incarcerated but their voting rights are automatically restored after being released from prison. Interestingly, Massachusetts inmates could vote while incarcerated up until the year 2000. Some politicians have pushed to reinstate this practice, which is currently only followed in Maine and Vermont.
Additionally, Massachusetts does not put a cap on prison time in general. This means that someone can receive a life sentence if that is an option for the crime committed. However, a court can only impose the maximum sentence for that specific crime. If for example, a crime does not allow for life sentences, then the defendant cannot receive that.
The state of Massachusetts also deems certain things legal that other states brand illegal. In 2008, medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts. It is currently one of 33 states (and the District of Columbia) that legalizes medical marijuana.
Massachusetts also made recreational marijuana illegal in 2016. It is currently one of 11 states that have legalized recreational marijuana to date. This number will likely increase in the next decade or two.
Whether you live in Massachusetts or not, if you are facing charges for a crime committed in the state you should seek advice from a local Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer. A local lawyer will be the most familiar with Massachusetts’ laws and court systems. This will help provide you with the best strategy and defense for your case.