When it comes to familiarity with the criminal justice system, most people only know what they have seen in movies or television shows. However, anyone can become involved with criminal law and they would require more information. Unlike civil cases or traffic violations, criminal cases are a lot more serious and involve the likelihood of getting incarcerated or serving a life-long sentence. One of the shows that depict criminal law is Law and Order. It looks at how detectives and the police work together to solve a crime. The show also looks at the legal system and how the law is applied.

What Is Criminal Law?

In the simplest of words, criminal law focuses on the body of laws that are applicable to criminal acts. For instance, when an individual does not adhere to the criminal statute, their criminal conduct would be evaluated based on criminal law. Criminal law penalties are much more severe and involve the imprisonment, unlike civil law that mostly involves money damages. There are different theories that suggest why the criminal law system is needed. Although no theory is dispositive or exclusive, the main theories suggest that criminal law helps prevent further crimes, provides retribution, reforms the perpetrator, and deters crime.

Types of Criminal Laws

Criminal laws are divided into two types, felonies, and misdemeanours. A felony involves a serious offense. Arson, robbery, rape, dealing with drugs, manslaughter, and murder are some examples of felonies. In just about every US state, felonies lead to a year or more in prison depending on the jurisdiction of the felony and the nature of the offense. As for a misdemeanour, it is a lower-level criminal offense. It includes petty thefts, traffic offenses, and minor assaults. Most US states require the individual charged with misdemeanour crime to serve a year or less in prison. Moreover, every US state has different criminal laws. However, there are federal criminal laws that are applicable to every state.

Criminal Law Statutes

There are two distinct parts of every criminal law statute. The first is the mens rea which looks at the mental state of the individual that commits the crime. For instance, when someone commits a murder, they must have the intention to murder another party. It is this intention to commit a murder that is known as mens rea. The second part is called the actus Reus which refers to the actions that were taken by the individual. For example, when looking at a drug-dealing case, to charge the perpetrator for committing drug dealing, he or she needs to have drugs sold.

To better understand criminal law statutes, one needs to look at the underlying crime involved. When a government or society decides that a certain act is dangerous or damaging, it is seen as a crime. Thus, it is made punishable through sanctions like imprisonment or fines. The majority of crimes are described in statutes that are enacted by local, state, and federal governments concerning their jurisdiction. For instance, the federal government would decide if a bank robbery is to be treated as a federal crime as banks tend to be insured federally, whereas, a crime such as being drunk in public is determined by the city.

Criminal statutes clearly state which conducted is to be treated as a crime, the intent required or the mindset, and punishment for the crime. For instance, if we look at the California Penal Code Sections 459 and 461 that involve burglary, we will understand as follows.

Section 459

Anyone that enters a building such as a house, apartment, room, shop, store, warehouse, barn, or just about any other building with an intention to commit a felony, petit larceny, or grand larceny would be found guilty of committing burglary.

Section 461

An individual that commits burglary in the first degree would be imprisoned in state prison for two to six years. As for burglary in the second degree, the individual would be imprisoned in a county jail or state prison for not more than a year.

Any person who has violated a criminal statute whether through a jury trial or their own admission would be punished by offering community service, probation, imprisonment, the imposition of fines, or other penalties.

The Criminal System and Procedure

The entire criminal process is dealt with by the criminal justice system, from the sentencing to conviction to the arrest and investigation. The people involved include the accused, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defence attorneys, police officers, bail bondsmen, corrections officers, probation officers, witnesses, and judges. According to the US Constitution, the person suspected of committing the crime has certain fundamental rights that are described. It includes the right to a quick jury trial and the right to have an attorney represent them. These constitutional rights cannot be denied as they provide a balance between identifying and punishing criminal behaviour and preserving the fundamental rights of the individual.

How Does a Criminal Case Come to an End?

When deciding the outcome of the criminal case, the decision is based on the courtroom procedure, the strategy of the defence, the length of the case, the strength of the evidence, and the crime charged. Once everything has been said and done, there would be no legal consequences on the individual if the charges have been dismissed. The following are some of the potential outcomes.

  • The individual convicted is sentenced for life.
  • The individual is found to be not guilty and is acquitted by the jury.
  • The person charged is taken before the court and the evidence seized has been illegally seized thereby the case is dismissed by the court.
  • The person charged with the crime enters a plea bargain and agrees to plead guilty in which case a lighter sentence would be served.
  • The criminal investigation leads to no arrest.

Contact a Criminal Defence Lawyer

No matter how good of an understanding you might have of the criminal law, if you or your loved one has been involved in a crime, it is best to contact a criminal defence lawyer to ensure that you get the best options.