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 WWhat Is Criminal Law?

Civil law is intended to address behavior that causes some sort of injury to a person or other private party through the use of lawsuits. The penalties for any parties that are found liable for these acts are generally monetary, but may also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Criminal law addresses behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or the public, even if the victim is an individual person. Someone convicted of a crime will be forced to pay criminal fines, as well as possibly lose their freedom by being sentenced to jail or prison time. Regardless of whether someone is being charged with a serious crime or a minor crime, the accused still has the right to a trial, as well as certain other legal protections.

Criminal procedure refers to the overall legal process of adjudicating claims for those accused of violating criminal laws. The intention behind all criminal procedures is known as the “presumption of innocence,” which means that a suspect is considered to be innocent until they are proven guilty.

Criminal procedure includes matters such as:

What Is A Personal Crime?

A personal crime is generally characterized as a violent crime resulting in physical, emotional, and/or psychological harm to the victim. Depending on state or federal laws, personal crimes can be punishable as both felonies and misdemeanors.

The following are the most common types of personal crimes:

  1. Assault and Battery: Although “assault” and “battery” are two distinct personal crimes with separate elements, many states combine the two into the one crime of “assault and battery.” The majority of states consider an assault and battery to be the attempt or actual physical striking of another, or an act that is considered to be so threatening that it puts the other person in fear of immediate harm.
  2. Child Abuse: A personal crime involving physical, psychological and/or emotional harm, sexual exploitation, and/or neglect of a child or children under the age of 18 is classified as child abuse. Child abuse can be an act or a failure to act resulting in actual harm, or even the threat of harm.
  3. Homicide: This is a personal crime that includes, but is not limited to: First degree murder, Second degree murder, manslaughter, and felony murder. Homicide can be either intentional or unintentional, and is defined by the defendant’s state of mind, which is governed either by state or federal law.
  4. Sexual Abuse: Often referred to as molestation, it is defined as the unwanted touching of another, in a sexual manner, without their consent. Sexual abuse can be carried out either by the threat of harm, and/or by the actual use of force.

How Does Criminal Law Procedure Work?

The two bodies that can bring a criminal case against someone would be the federal government or a state government, whose cases are stylized as US v. Someone or State v. Someone. Whether the accused is charged in federal court or in a state court largely depends on what crime they are being charged with, as well as where the alleged offense occurred. Additionally, every state has its own set of criminal laws, but there are Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant.

These rights include:

  • The Right To A Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial 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. While many jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, where guilt is determined by a judge, this is the defendant’s choice only. Additionally, this right is universal with criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules which govern jury rights;
  • Miranda Rights: The result of a famous Supreme Court case, Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
  • Protection Against Self-Incrimination: More commonly known as “pleading the fifth,” this Constitutional protection states that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.

If a criminal defendant believes that their rights have been violated due to police misconduct, they should contact a lawyer immediately.

Because every jurisdiction has their own procedural rules, the steps and timing of a criminal trial vary considerably. However, all trials are generally divided into two phases: the guilt phase, and the sentencing phase. During the guilt phase, the prosecutor and the defense present elements in order to prove that the defendant’s behavior has or has not met all of the elements of that particular criminal charge. If the jury/judge finds that all of these elements have been met, they can then declare the defendant guilty.

During the sentencing phase, the judge or jury considers state or federal law dictating the punishment range for the crime or crimes that the defendant was convicted of. They consider many different factors, such as:

  • Previous criminal history;
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors; and
  • Any other relevant facts in order to determine the person’s punishment.

Only once both phases have been completed will a convicted individual officially receive their punishment, such as fines, prison time, or both.

What Else Should I Know About Criminal Law?

Criminal acts are classified from less serious petty offenses, such as simple theft, to the most serious offenses such as drug trafficking and murder. Every jurisdiction and the federal courts have different ways in which to classify these crimes, from misdemeanors and disorderly conduct charges to felonies.

Misdemeanor offenses may include a wide range of criminal offenses and violations, including:

The following is a general list of felony crimes:

It is important to note that there are offenses which may be charged as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the laws of the state as well as the circumstances of the offense. These may include:

Certain offenses, such as speeding and moving violations, are considered to be infractions. These violations only affect a person’s driving record, and not their criminal record. Additionally, there is a separate category for juvenile crimes, which are crimes that are committed by minors.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Personal Crimes?

Personal crimes are serious in nature. However, there are defenses and exceptions to personal crimes that could either exonerate you, or convince the prosecution to charge you with a lesser offense. If you have been criminally charged with a personal crime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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