A crime is the violation of a law set forth in written documentation or established in common law by the local, state, or federal government. For a person to violate a law there must be specific punishments for breaking that law stated in the document.
There are two types of legal offenses: criminal and civil. Criminal offenses are brought about by the state upon the defendant due to the a direct violation of a law, and are punishable by a fine, public service, incarceration, or any combination of these. Civil offenses are brought about by a plaintiff upon a defendant merely to settle legal disputes, and are punishable only by the surrender of property or money. Also, a criminal case must be proved to the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” to result in a conviction, while a civil case must be proved by a “preponderance of the evidence” to result in a judgment. This means that the evidence must only suggest that the case is more likely true than it is false.
There are three types of crimes punishable by law: infractions or petty offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies. An infraction or petty offense is the smallest possible violation of the law. These are often treated as civil offenses and are not punishable by incarceration. Infractions and petty offenses include violations of municipal codes and ordinances, and violation of traffic codes in some states. Crimes punishable by less than one year of incarceration are misdemeanors. With misdemeanors, jail time may substituted or supplemented by fines or required public service. Defendants may be given a right to a jury trial with more serious misdemeanors. Examples of misdemeanors include disorderly conduct, petty theft, prostitution, simple assault,public intoxication, trespass, vandalism, and most DUIs (Driving Under the Influence). A felony is the highest possible violation of the law and is punishable by more than one year of incarceration or fines greater than $1000. Defendants have a right to a jury trial in felony cases. Arson, assault and battery, terrorism, murder, rape, grand theft or larceny, robbery and burglary are all examples of felonies.
There are many steps taken by the state, the defendant, and the defendant’s criminal defense attorney in a criminal proceeding. After a crime is committed and reported a law enforcement officer will go and make the arrest. The defendant is then booked, where a record is made of his or her name, personal information, and the crime that he or she committed. An arraignment then occurs before a judge, where the defendant submits a plea of either guilty or not guilty. A written account of the accusation is presented to the defendant, and a trial date is set for those pleading not guilty. The defendant then is either assigned bail or detention. Bail can be set for either “release on your own recognizance”, in which he or she gives their word that they will be present for the trial date, or bail is set for an amount of money specified by the judge. If the defendant is detained then they are incarcerated until their trial date. Before the case is taken before a jury it is presented to the judge in a preliminary hearing. In a state court evidence is presented to a judge and it is the judge’s job to decide whether it is sufficient to take the case before a jury. However, in most federal courts or for particularly heinous crimes the evidence is presented to a grand jury, an assembly of common citizens, who then make the decision based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion. If these standards are found sufficient, the defendant must go to trial. During the trial the case is presented to a jury, through opening and closing statements and the presentation of witnesses and evidence. The jury then deliberates on the case, and issues a verdict to the court. If the defendant is found guilty the judge then issues the appropriate sentence to be served out by the defendant. An appeal can later be made to examine whether the trial was properly conducted.
Contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. The criminal law system is very procedural and time sensitive. You must have a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and preserve your defenses. Further, a criminal defense attorney will be able to point out procedural and investigative errors by the police that may be used effectively in your defense.
Your attorney should be present in all post-arrest proceedings, including questioning by law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys, lineups, and testing (such as DNA testing, etc.). Do not answer questions without consulting your criminal defense attorney first, even if you are told cooperation will result in your release. Once you are arrested such a release can no longer be made. Be as polite as is possible in such circumstances; aggravating law enforcement officials can only complicate your situation.
In many cases, the state may appoint a public defender to represent you. However, public defenders have high case loads and may not have adequate time to dedicate to your case.
In evaluating a criminal defense attorney, the most important factors to consider are experience, fee structure, and simply whether you like that lawyer or not.
Typically, criminal defense attorneys specialize in certain areas of criminal law. For example, a criminal defense attorney may concentrate on white collar crime cases, DUI and traffic cases, or felonies that involve violence. It is important that your attorney is licensed in your state and that he or she is well versed on the criminal procedure in the jurisdiction in which you are charged with a crime.
Generally, criminal defense attorneys charge an hourly fee and a retainer to being representation. However, certain criminal defense attorneys may just charge a flat fee for certain uncomplicated matters.
Being charged with a crime can be very stressful and traumatic. If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony you should be represented by a criminal defense attorney who can defend your rights and preserve any defenses that you have in a timely manner.