Criminal law refers to a specific area of the law that describes acts which are prohibited by the government. It prescribes the types of punishments that should be imposed on persons who commit such acts. In most cases, the act will typically involve behavior that is considered to be harmful or offensive to the welfare and safety of the general public.
For example, first-degree murder is prohibited by various criminal laws and statutes in the United States. A defendant who is convicted of committing first-degree murder will most likely be sentenced to life in prison. They may potentially be required to pay some amount of criminal fines to the state.
Depending on the jurisdiction and the text of the actual statute, criminal law may also be used as a tool to deter individuals from committing crimes, to punish individuals for their wrongdoings, to keep society safe from potentially dangerous persons, and to rehabilitate criminal defendants so that they may rejoin society after they complete the requirements of their court-ordered punishment.
In addition, criminal laws mandate the legal procedures that must be complied with in order to execute the criminal justice process in a lawful manner.
What Does “Criminal Law Procedure” Refer To?
Among the many objectives of criminal law discussed in the above section, criminal law also establishes criminal law procedures that aim to strike a balance between protecting a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights (e.g., right to a fair trial) while still ensuring that those who commit wrongdoings are lawfully punished.
Unfortunately, due to a myriad of reasons and non-uniform procedural rules, these intentions are not foolproof. Hence, the recent trend towards criminal justice reform and alternative sentencing programs.
An easier way to distinguish the definition of criminal law from criminal law procedure is to think of criminal law procedure as a set of mandatory instructions. Government authorities must follow these instructions to the letter if they intend to lawfully accuse, charge, and/or convict an individual who engaged in an act that is prohibited by one or more criminal laws.
While each jurisdiction has implemented its own set of guidelines, criminal law procedure generally entails the following stages:
- The arrest or the events leading up to an arrest;
- The detention, investigation, and charging period;
- The initial hearing, also known as an arraignment, which is when the defendant is formally charged;
- The pre-trial stage (e.g., discovery, plea bargaining, etc.);
- The criminal trial (if there is one);
- The sentencing stage; and
- The appeal (again, if there is one).
If law enforcement and other government authorities fail to follow the proper criminal law procedures implemented for each of these stages, then a defendant may be able to claim that those parties’ actions violated their constitutional rights.
What Are Some Common Criminal Charges in Montana?
The following list contains some of the most common types of crimes that an individual may face criminal charges for in the state of Montana, including:
- Property crimes, such as larceny, burglary, and motor vehicle theft or auto theft;
- Aggravated assault;
- Drug related offenses;
- Fraud crimes like identity theft;
- Violent sex crimes; and
- Repeat offenders of driving while intoxicated (“DUI”).
According to various state crime statistics, property crimes (especially, larceny) make up the largest percentage of criminal offenses that individuals are charged with in Montana. Depending on the specific facts of a case, such as the value of the property stolen and whether an individual was a repeat or first time offender, larceny charges can result in either a misdemeanor or a felony conviction in Montana.
What Are Some Common Criminal Law Defenses?
Similar to any state, the type of criminal law defense that a criminal defendant can raise against the charges will depend on the crime they are accused of committing, the facts of each individual case, and the laws of the jurisdiction in which the case is being tried.
Some examples of common criminal law defenses that a Montana criminal defendant may be able to cite in their case include:
- Lack of evidence;
- Lack of proof;
- Duress, coercion, or undue influence;
- Mistaken identity;
- Involuntary intoxication (with exceptions); and/or
- An affirmative defense that corresponds with the crime for which they are being tried.
Again, whether a criminal defendant in Montana will be able to use any of the criminal defenses in the above list or not, will largely be contingent on the facts of their case. A Montana criminal law attorney will be able to provide further legal guidance on what types of criminal defenses may apply to a specific case and can discuss the potential outcomes of a case if a defendant chooses to use a particular criminal law defense.
Does Montana Have Any Unique Criminal Laws?
In general, criminal laws need to be enforced by a government authority before a criminal can be punished. Although many of these unique criminal laws are outdated and have not been enforced for years, a person can still be charged with a crime if they commit any of the following acts in the state of Montana:
- A wife who opens their husband’s postal mail can be charged with a felony.
- It is illegal for a person to drive an animal onto a railroad track with the intent to damage an oncoming train. If convicted, a person can face up to five years of imprisonment and a $50,000 criminal fine.
- In certain counties, it is illegal to annoy a pedestrian on a sidewalk that contains a revolving sprinkler system.
- An individual can be charged with a misdemeanor offense if they play a movie that depicts someone committing a felony offense.
- Lastly, while this will more likely be charged as a traffic citation (i.e., the person will be issued a ticket and have to pay a possible fine), it is illegal for persons in Montana to transport sheep in their car or truck without a chaperone.
Should I Hire a Montana Criminal Lawyer if I’m Facing Criminal Charges?
If you are currently facing criminal charges for committing a crime, you should contact a Montana criminal lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced criminal lawyer can determine whether there are any defenses available that you can raise against the charges as well as can help you to devise a legal argument that has the potential to reduce the penalties you may receive if convicted or eliminate the charges entirely.
Your lawyer can advise you of your legal rights as a criminal defendant in Montana and can ensure that those rights are adequately protected. Your lawyer will also be able to provide legal representation in court or while negotiating a plea deal with the prosecutor assigned to your case.
In addition, your lawyer can answer any questions that you may have during the process and can offer you legal guidance on issues that may arise throughout the course of your criminal case. Such guidance will be crucial if you are required to make important decisions in the case that may affect the rest of your life.
Finally, if you have already completed your sentence and/or paid the necessary criminal fines, your lawyer can also help you to determine whether or not you may be able to petition to have the conviction and/or other related entry expunged from your criminal record.