Man in handcuffs in a courtroom with a person in a suit holding his arm

Criminal Law: An Overview

While various media outlets may portray criminal justice in a particular fashion, the way the law works, in reality, is truly quite different than what you may have been exposed to in the past.

Read on to learn more about the way criminal law actually works; outside of TV and movies.

The Basics of Criminal Law

First, let’s define what crime is.

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute (LII), crime is “Behavior that the law makes punishable as a public offense. The elements of a crime typically come from statutes, but may also be supplied by the common law in states where the criminal common law still carries force.”

In criminal law, the intent of a prohibited action is important. Crimes that are mala prohibita (“bad because prohibited) are forbidden by statute but aren’t innately wicked.

In retrospect, crimes that are mala in se (“bad in themselves”) are considered innately wicked under customary community principles. The justification for common law crimes comes from the concept of mala in se.

Government attorneys prosecute crimes and may represent a city, county, state, or the federal government.

You Have Rights if Accused of a Crime

If you’re accused of a crime, you are entitled to fundamental rights that come from the United States Constitution as well as key court decisions. You have the following rights if you’re accused of a crime:

  • The right to an attorney.
    • If you cannot afford an attorney, the court is legally required to furnish one for you.
  • The right to a speedy jury trial.
    • The jury is not allowed to deliberate on your case forever and must come to a decision as soon as plausible.

Types of Crimes

Crimes are divided into four categories:

Every state, as well as the federal government, make decisions about conduct that should be criminalized. There were originally nine major felonies at common law:

  1. Murder
  2. Robbery
  3. Manslaughter
  4. Rape
  5. Sodomy
  6. Larceny
  7. Arson
  8. Mayhem
  9. Burglary

Additionally, among others, common law decided on the following various misdemeanors:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Perjury
  • Intimidation of jurors

Compared to common law, the U.S. Code is much more comprehensive. Regardless, there are limits to the power that Congress has to make criminal laws. Since states hold the power to create state criminal codes, they tend to be much more complex than the U.S. Code.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines (the Guidelines) are defined by LII as “non-binding rules that set out a uniform sentencing policy for defendants convicted in the United States federal court system that became effective in 1987. The Guidelines provide for ‘very precise calibration of sentences, depending upon a number of factors. These factors relate both to the subjective guilt of the defendant and to the harm caused by his facts.’”

While the Guidelines are not obligatory, they provide a roadmap for sentencing. The Guidelines are not to be used as end-all, be-all sentencing instructions, because crime is much more nuanced than that. A black and white guidebook wouldn’t be effective for sentencing because it would violate the Sixth Amendment by being based upon facts not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

Ways You Can Expect Your Case to Conclude

There are several ways a criminal case can end. The following are the possible conclusions of a criminal case:

  • The criminal investigation concludes without an arrest.
  • You’re arrested and charged with a crime, then you enter a plea bargain with the government, in which you agree to plead “guilty” in order to gain a form of leniency, such as a reduced sentence.
  • You’re arrested and charged, but prior to a jury, your case is dismissed due to the fact that your charges rely on illegally obtained evidence.
  • You’re brought to trial and are decided “not guilty,” or acquitted, by the jury.
  • The jury convicts you of a crime and you’re sentenced to a significant prison term.

We’re Here For You

Being accused of a crime is a serious offense and not something you should handle alone. If you’re accused of a crime, you may experience feelings of confusion and disbelief, and our skilled attorneys at Foley Griffin are well-equipped to help you through this difficult situation. Don’t hesitate to contact our office with your case right away. After all, it is your freedom on the line.

Contact Foley Griffin at (888) 966-8480 to schedule your free and confidential consultation with our Nassau County criminal defense attorneys.

Categories