Find A Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime, it is imperative that you consult with criminal defense attorneys that specialize in all areas of criminal defense law.
Criminal law finds its roots in the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that anyone accused of a crime has the right to a fair investigation, the right to representation, and an open and fair trial by a jury of your peers. This summary discusses the basic elements of our criminal justice system.
Criminal charges are identified in statutes that have been enacted by federal, state, and local government legislatures, in response to issues that affect the people in a jurisdiction. Generally, everyone is subject to federal crimes, as laid out in federal statutes, but you are also subject to the state and local statutes that criminalize acts in the geographic area where you live, work or travel. If charged, it is important to find a local criminal defense attorney.
Criminal statutes break down the type of conduct that has been criminalized, the mens rea (mindset) or intent required, and the established punishment for someone who is guilty of a particular crime. The conduct is usually broken into “elements” that a criminal attorney or defense lawyer can help contest. Each element must be met for a person to be guilty of that particular crime. For example, a typical DUI statute states “it shall be a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle on a public road while in an intoxicated state.” The elements of this crime are: (i) that the suspect was operating a motor vehicle; (ii) the motor vehicle was operated on a public road; and (iii) the operator was in an intoxicated state (often a state will define a particular level of intoxication, measured as blood alcohol content, above which you are deemed to be intoxicated). Without the help of a criminal defense attorney, a jury may conclude you were intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle and criminal charges may be brought against you. Consult with a criminal attorney or defense lawyer.
The Criminal Justice System: How it Works
The criminal justice "system" encompasses the entire criminal process itself from investigation and arrest, to indictment and criminal charges, to conviction and sentencing and the people who play a role in that process: the suspect (accused), law enforcement officers (police), prosecuting attorneys, bail bondsmen, attorneys, judges, witnesses, probation officers, and corrections officers.
Law enforcement officers, including federal, state and local, and specialized branches of each level (i.e., Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) are constantly investigating reported and discovered criminal behavior.
When the officers have probable cause to arrest a suspect, they either arrest them on the spot or request a warrant to pick up the suspect.
Once arrested, the suspect will be questioned (after a warning about self-incrimination) and the law enforcement officers will cooperate with the appropriate prosecutors to ensure that the elements of the crime are supportable by evidence. Once they are confident that the evidence supports a conviction, they will formally charge or indict the suspect (now the accused) for the crime.
If the accused is not a flight risk (run away and not return to defend themselves) or a danger to the community, the accused is constitutionally entitled to be released on bail. The judge will set bail (if available) at a level that he or she deems appropriate to the accused.
At trial, the government has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has violated each of the elements of the crime for which the accused has been charged. If a jury of peers finds the accused guilty, then the judge will impose a sentence depending on the statutory limitations and any mitigating circumstances.
Each person suspected of or charged with a crime is entitled to certain fundamental rights that derive from the U.S. Constitution and key court decisions. If the defense is unable to pay for their own , they still maintain the right to an attorney (criminal defense attorney) and the right to a speedy jury trial.
End Game: When is it Over? Some potential outcomes of a criminal case are:
- A criminal investigation ends with no arrest (the accused may not know that it is over).
- An arrest occurs, no criminal charges are finalized and the case is dismissed because some evidence is deemed inadmissible because the police illegally seized the evidence during the investigation.
- A person is arrested and charged with a crime, then enters into a plea bargain (usually with the help of a criminal defense attorney) with the government, agreeing to plead "guilty" in exchange for some form of leniency, such as a lighter sentence.
- A person is convicted by a jury and sentenced by the judge.