Criminal law covers matters arising out of a criminal offense. Criminal offenses are defined under federal, state or local law and can range from serious crimes, such as murder, to minor infractions, such as speeding. Criminal penalties, also established under statutory law, are usually commensurate with the seriousness of the offense.
Misdemeanors may only be punishable by a fine or a short period of probation. Serious and violent crimes can result in years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or even the death penalty, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that all criminal defendants have the right to be represented by an attorney. In cases where the defendant may go to prison, the U.S. Constitution requires the state to provide the defendant with legal representation if he or she cannot afford it. In less serious cases, such as traffic tickets, defendants are entitled to an attorney but must pay for it themselves.
Criminal prosecutions can be extremely complex, and even more so when they involve multiple charges and multiple defendants. Any time you are charged with a crime, especially a felony, legal representation is a wise choice. If you are facing criminal charges, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible to protect your rights and build your best defense.
Terms to Know
- Infraction: A simple felony or administrative violation, usually punishable only by a fine.
- Reasonable doubt: A defendant can only be found guilty if the judge believes he or she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; the highest burden of proof in our legal system.
- Plea Bargain: The process by which a defendant and a prosecutor negotiate a compromise; the defendant usually pleads guilty to one or more crimes in exchange for a lesser sentence or dismissal of the other charges.
- Miranda Rights: The rights that an arresting officer must tell a suspect before police question him or her; Miranda rights consist of the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present during police questioning, and to have an attorney provided by the state at no cost to the suspect if he or she cannot afford one.
Other considerations when hiring a criminal attorney
Statistically, less than 10 percent of criminal cases go to trial. The reason is because defense attorneys often reach favorable plea bargains with prosecutors. In fact, attorneys usually negotiate better plea bargains than the defendant could expect to receive on his or her side. In addition, criminal defense attorneys may dismiss a case through pretrial proceedings where they suppress illegally obtained evidence or allege procedural violations.
Unlike what happens on television, in real life criminal defendants are not automatically released because the police failed to read them their Miranda rights at a particular time. Given these movie and television series falsehoods, criminal defendants should only rely on legal information from a reliable source or a professional attorney. Even if criminal defendants ultimately decide to represent themselves, consulting an attorney could be the difference between going to prison or getting probation.
If you are charged with a crime, contact a criminal lawyer immediately to protect and discuss your rights.
Related Practice Areas
- Traffic Violations
- White Collar Crime
- Civil Rights Law
- Constitutional Law
- Nursing Home Abuse
Talk to a Qualified Criminal Law Attorney Today
This article is intended to be helpful and informative, but legal matters can become complicated and stressful. A qualified criminal law attorney can address your particular legal needs, explain the law and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a qualified criminal law attorney near you to discuss your particular legal situation.
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