A Simple Look Into Criminal Law
Simply put, criminal law is when an individual is prosecuted for a crime by the government. In criminal law, a prosecutor that represents the state will initiate a lawsuit. Should the accused individual be found guilty they can be required to pay a fine, incarcerated, or both. It’s important to note that criminal law is different than civil cases. In civil cases, individuals and organizations are trying to resolve an issue, and a convicted person can’t be incarcerated (only made to pay a fine or hand over property).
What Constitutes a Crime that May End in Criminal Law?
Technically, a crime is an act (or omission of an act) that violates public law which forbids the act or commands it. There are common law crimes, as well as those that are put in place by the federal government, state government, or local government. Most crimes fall into one of the latter categories. It’s important to realize that criminal law varies greatly from state to state.
There are two types of crimes that can be committed; felony and misdemeanor. Although criminal law varies state to state, you can get a basic understanding of criminal liability from the Model Penal Code, or the MPC. Normally, a felony crime can be punishable by at least a year of prison under criminal law. Misdemeanors aren’t usually punishable by that much. If imprisoned for a misdemeanor, it’ll likely be less than a year.
How Does Criminal Law Cases Begin?
First, a prosecuting attorney who represents people of a jurisdiction will initiate the case. Of course, there has to be an arrest. A police makes the arrest, and there is typically a court date set. At that time, there may be the option of bail for the defendant. If the defendant is deemed to not pose any threat to anyone and doesn’t have a criminal record, they could be released without bail by promising to appear for court on their appointed date.
At the first court hearing, or arraignment, the defendant will enter into a plea…either guilty or not guilty. This is where many cases under criminal law end. It is not uncommon for a defendant to accept a plea bargain that is offered by the prosecuting attorney. This typically means admitting guilt to a lesser crime or guilt to the crime in return for a lesser punishment.
If they don’t enter into a plea bargain, then the remaining course of action under criminal law are typically:
· Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Proceedings
· Pre-trial Motions
· In some cases, appeals