What Is Criminal Law?

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 What Is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is a major branch of law that deals with criminal statute violations. Different states have different criminal laws, and there are also federal laws that govern criminal activity. Crimes may be defined as dangerous conduct to the community and punishable by jail or prison time. Civil liability, on the other hand, usually only involves civil fines. Furthermore, criminal violations are prosecuted by the state, while civil conflicts are between private parties.

Civil laws aim to deal with behaviors that cause injury to another individual or a third party. The consequences for parties found liable for these actions are typically monetary but may also include a court-ordered remedy such as a restraining order or an injunction.

Criminal laws deal with behavior considered an offense against society, the state, or the public, no matter who the victim is. Criminal defendants convicted of a crime may be ordered to pay fines and lose their freedom if they are sentenced to jail or prison.

Law enforcement arrests and investigations based on suspicion of criminal activity fall under criminal laws.

Additionally, criminal laws address:

  • Indictments;
  • Accusations;
  • Criminal pleas; and
  • Trials.

In criminal cases, whether the defendant is being charged with a serious crime or a minor offense, they have the right to a trial and other legal protections. Criminal laws govern issues associated with probation or parole and requests for record sealing or expungement of records.

There are many general categories of crime, including:

  • Personal crimes;
  • White-collar crimes; and
  • Non-violent crimes.

An attorney can help an individual determine which laws apply to their case according to the laws of the state where they live. Categories of offenses differ from state to state, so it is important to have the assistance of an attorney.

Categories of criminal offenses include:

In addition, crimes may be classified as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the nature and severity of the offense.

Criminal offenses and violations that qualify as misdemeanors include:

Misdemeanor crimes are usually punished with jail time and criminal fines in a county jail facility. The average jail sentence is less than one year. The average fine is less than $1,000.

Criminal offenses that result in a prison term of one year or longer are considered felonies.

Violence is often an element of these crimes and is considered harmful or dangerous to society. A felony crime may also include some of the most serious crimes a defendant can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson.

Felony crimes generally include:

  • Property crimes, such as:
  • Drug offenses, such as distributing, selling, or trafficking drugs;
  • Sex crimes, such as sexual assault and human trafficking;
  • Violent offenses, such as:
    • First-degree murder;
    • Second-degree murder; and
    • Robbery; and
  • White collar crimes, such as:

If convicted of a felony, a defendant may be sentenced to at least one year in prison. The fines imposed will also be higher than those for misdemeanors.

What Are Some Different Types of Crimes?

There are many different types of crimes. Property crimes, theft crimes, white collar crimes, DUI and alcohol-related crimes, and violent crimes are some of the broader categories of crimes.

Crimes can also be classified according to their severity. The two major divisions in criminal law are misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors such as criminal coercion are punishable by a slight criminal fine and some time in jail (usually one year maximum).

Felonies include assault and battery and most alcohol-related offenses. Felonies are punishable by several years in prison and higher fines. Criminal charges such as homicide, burglary, and kidnapping are examples.

What Is a Criminal Defense?

Criminal defenses may be raised depending on the facts of the circumstances. In most cases, the defendant must have intended to commit the crime. Thus, any condition that negates a person’s intent may be used as a defense. The person’s intoxication, for instance, may serve as a defense.
Self-defense is another defense. This defense is common in cases where the defendant reacted to an aggressor’s violence. Other defenses, such as duress or coercion, may be available. To determine which defenses are available, a lawyer is generally required.

What Is the Process for a Criminal Charge?

The federal and state governments can bring criminal charges against a defendant. Criminal cases are typically stylized or labeled as United States v. Defendant or State v. Defendant.

It depends on the crime a defendant is charged with and where the alleged offense occurred, whether they are charged in state or federal court. Criminal laws vary from state to state.

However, it is important to note that certain Constitutional rights apply to every defendant, regardless of the offense or where it took place. Among them are:

  • The right to a speedy trial: According to the Sixth Amendment, a criminal defendant has the right to a speedy trial to avoid being imprisoned for an extended period without a conviction;
  • The right to a jury: A defendant’s right to a jury trial is also guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. The defendant can waive a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, where a judge determines guilt. As civil trials have their own jury rights rules, this right applies only to criminal prosecutions;
  • Miranda rights, which stem from a famous Supreme Court case: Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
  • The protection against self-incrimination (known as pleading the fifth): A defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interests under this constitutional protection.

A criminal defendant has been arrested, accused, and charged with committing a crime. Innocent defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

Defenses that may be available to a defendant include, but are not limited to:

  • Self-Defense;
  • Entrapment;
  • Insanity;
  • Intoxication; and
  • Alibi.

What Is the Role of Police in Society?

It is the primary responsibility of the police, also known as law enforcement, to maintain order in society.

Among the aims of the police in society are:

  • Enforcing criminal laws;
  • Reducing civil disorder; and
  • Protecting individuals and their property.

For law enforcement to fulfill its role in society, the state may grant them certain powers. As part of these powers, police may be able to use force to prevent crimes and impose fines on criminals.

Many community functions are also performed by law enforcement, including:

  • Educational seminars;
  • Performing community service; and
  • Sponsoring community events and activities.

Defending against aggressors is the responsibility of law enforcement, a non-military organization. Thus, law enforcement performs only domestic peacekeeping functions and is not involved in international affairs.

It is typical for each city to maintain its own police force. Police precincts are the headquarters of a police force.

The role of police in criminal cases is to complete tasks including:

  • Interviewing witnesses;
  • Collecting evidence;
  • Typing reports;
  • Obtaining warrants;
  • Investigating criminal offenses;
  • Gathering evidence; and
  • Testifying in court regarding criminal offenses, if necessary.

In criminal cases, the role of law enforcement will vary depending on the jurisdiction. It may be necessary for law enforcement officers to perform fewer or more duties depending on the support staff available and the organization of the local District Attorney’s Office.

Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help with Criminal Laws and Statutes?

It is often difficult to understand criminal laws. It is highly recommended that a person obtain their own criminal attorney when facing criminal charges. Legal advice from a qualified criminal lawyer is essential to a successful defense. Additionally, an experienced attorney can inform the client of any major developments in their case.


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