All About Criminal Law in 6 Minutes: A Quick Guide

criminal law

If you’re accused of a crime and not adequately prepared, you will lose your court case. In fact, it is reported that about 2%-10% of the US prison population is innocent. Most of these innocent prisoners lose their court cases due to: 

  • Lack of awareness of their right
  • Failure to grasp legal technicalities
  • Failure to follow proper court procedures. 

But, you can not blame them. Court procedures can be painfully long. Unfortunately, any mistake you make during the procedure may reduce your chances of winning the case. So, legal assistance from the best criminal defense lawyers may come in handy. Especially if the stakes are higher beyond a mere simple fine. 

Most people avoid engaging a criminal defense lawyer to save on the associated fees. But is the saved money worth joining the list of the growing innocent prison populations? Or will it save you from a punitive plea bargain? I bet not. Arm yourself with criminal defense lawyers before your life is tossed by prosecutors that depend on your conviction to be promoted. 

However, if you’re stuck on where to start or approach your criminal case, here is a quick guide. 

What Is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is one of the two US laws that punish wrongdoing or compensate victims of misconduct. It deals with public wrongdoing or misconduct that affects society, the state, or individuals. If convicted of a crime under criminal law, you can pay fines or lose your freedom (read spend time in prison). 

The second US law that punishes wrongdoing in the US is civil law. It deals with personal injuries or other private parties through lawsuits. Monetary is one of the typical consequences if you are found guilty of these crimes. But in some cases, it could include court-ordered penalties like restraining orders or injections. 

Criminal Law Procedure 

procedure

The criminal procedure is the complete legal process that helps to adjudicate claims for a person suspected of violating criminal laws. Criminal procedures help to uphold the idea of the presumption of innocence. This means a suspect remains innocent unless proven guilty. 

Here are some of the matters around criminal procedures:

  • Stopping, detaining, and arresting people
  • Searching and seizing suspects’ belongings
  • Booking and pressing charges
  • Lining up of eyewitnesses or suspects for identification
  • Counsel appointment (appointment of a lawyer by the court) 
  • Plea bargaining 
  • Present criminal evidence
  • Trial 
  • Criminal punishment
  • Appealing to the case
  • And then probation and parole may be granted

Elements that Define A Crime

You can segment all crimes into several criminal law elements. Moreover, the court of law requires all these elements to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The elements include a criminal act (actus reus) and criminal intent (men’s rea). And finally, a concurrence of the previous two elements for most crimes.  The fourth element is causation, which may not apply to all crimes. Here is a detailed explanation of the four elements of a crime: 

1. Criminal Act (Actus Reus)

The event that an unlawful act or unlawful omission of action as required by state principle occurs is called actus reus. This also helps to prove a guilty act. Verbal threats, conspiracy, purgery, and solicitation can be criminal activities. While thoughts are not regarded as criminal, they contribute to the second element: intent. 

But to consider any action as criminal conduct, it needs to be voluntary. The defendant must be aware and in control over the action. So with that said, the requisite of voluntary action is not met if the defendant acts on reflex. 

2. Criminal Intent (Mens Rea)

The mental state of a criminal suspect is essential for a criminal act to be classified as a crime. According to the mens rea hypothesis, a defendant can only be convicted if they had criminal intent.

But the definition of mens rea differs greatly. The US Supreme Court upheld the American Law Institutes’ definition of the term in their Modern Penal Code (MPC) in 2016. 

According to MPC, an individual’s guilt depends on if the act was knowingly, intentional, careless, or due to negligence. 

3. Concurrence

The aspect of crime greatly depends on the coexistence of criminal acts and intent. The burden proof can be invalidated if there is no evidence of the coexistence between mens rea and actus rea. 

4. Causation

Most criminal cases present this fourth aspect. Causation is when they try to relate a defendant’s actions with the result. 

Therefore, it’s the prosecution’s work to prove that the defendant’s acts caused the resultant crime, which is usually injury or harm. 

Types of Crimes

There are so many punishable crimes under the law. But to make it easier, the law classifies into five main categories. The categories include crimes against property, financial crimes, crimes against people, statutory crimes, and inchoate crimes. 

  • Crimes against a person. Crimes against people may cause a person physical or emotional harm. These crimes may be either violent crimes or homicides. Here are a few examples of violent crimes:
  • Child abuse
  • Assault and battery
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Arson, among others.
  • Homicide crimes include:
  • Vehicular homicide
  • First-degree murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Inchoate Crimes.  Inchoate crimes are the indefinite crimes that started but were never finished. Besides, they can be activities that help to execute another crime. 
  • Crimes against property. Common cases for crimes against property are interference with another party’s property. These crimes can be detrimental to mental injury or bodily harm. 
  • Financial Crimes.  Another type of criminal crime is obtaining money through fraud or deception. This is known as financial crime. These financial crimes are tax evasion, blackmail, cybercrime, money laundering, and embezzlement. 
  • Statutory claims are not different from the ones mentioned above. These crimes are known as statutory because they’re prohibited by law. The major statutory crimes include drug crimes, alcohol-related crimes, financial crimes, and traffic violations.

Criminal Trial 

criminal trial

Different jurisdictions have different processes.  But most trials are categorized into two parts, the guilt and punishment phase. 

The guilt phase allows the defense and prosecutor to submit evidence. This is essential to determine if the defendant’s actions satisfied all the elements of the criminal accusation. 

It’s the prosecutor’s role to prove that the defendant performed actus reus with the requisite mens rea beyond a reasonable doubt. Then the jury will establish if the claims are valid before ruling the defendant guilty. 

The sentencing comes after the guilt phase. Following federal law, the jury establishes the punishment range for the defendant during the sentencing phase. 

Many things are put into consideration before determining the penalty. For instance, your criminal records, aggravating and mitigating factors, and other helpful information. Only after completing the steps is when the judge can give a penalty to the convicted person. The penalty may include prison, fines, or both. 

Why You Need Criminal Defense Lawyer

  • They Have Extensive Experience With Justice System 
  • Saves You Money 
  • Secure Your Future 
  • Provide Expert Legal Advice 

Take Away

The law can be complex in all fields. But the situation turns out to be confusing if you’re facing criminal charges. A criminal conviction can negatively affect a defendant’s life. Depending on the allegations, you stand a chance of losing your freedom or having a permanent criminal record. 

Therefore, it is essential to seek legal advice when faced with criminal charges. A criminal defense attorney’s main role is to ensure you understand all your rights and safeguard them. 

Besides, they need to ensure you have the finest representation and technique to achieve the best outcome for your case. Even if you’re facing criminal charges, you have the right to a criminal attorney.

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