Criminal Law

Guide to Penal Law

What Is Criminal Law?

Criminal law involves a system of legal rules designed to keep the public safe and deter wrongful conduct. Those who violate the law face incarceration, fines, and other penalties. The American criminal justice system is both complex, and adversarial in nature. With the exception of minor traffic violations, accused individuals will require the assistance of an attorney.

Specific crimes and the consequences for violating them are found in penal codes enacted by legislators at the local, state, and federal levels. Less serious crimes are classified as misdemeanors. These typically carry a maximum of up to one year in the county jail. Examples include petty theft, possession of small amounts of controlled substances, and first-offense drunk driving.

Crimes of a more serious nature are classified as felonies. These carry punishments of a year or more in state or federal prison. Felonies include violent crimes like murder, burglary, and rape, as well as white collar crimes like embezzlement and money laundering.

When questions arise as to how criminal statutes should be interpreted, judges and lawyers turn to previously issued court opinions dealing with the same issues. This principal is known as "stare decisis." It means that once a court issues a decision involving a given set of circumstances, that ruling is binding precedent for similar disputes that come before the court on a later date.

Law enforcement agencies have the responsibility of investigating alleged crimes. Procedural rules are in place to ensure police officers respect the constitutional rights of the citizens they investigate. When a defense attorney challenges the legality of a criminal prosecution, most times the dispute is a result of procedural violations by the police.

Protecting Your Rights.

Each stage of a criminal prosecution presents traps for defendants who are not familiar with the court system. Criminal defense attorneys are trained to prevent their clients from doing or saying things that will increase the likelihood of conviction. But when legal counsel has not been hired or appointed, accused individuals can unknowingly waive their rights and harm their own interests.

For example, following an arrest, law enforcement will question a suspect in regards to the crime. The officers will inform the suspect of his or her "Miranda rights" (right to remain silent, right to an attorney), and then attempt to elicit a confession. Without a lawyer present, defendants can make incriminating statements that will later be used against them in court.

In both misdemeanors and felonies, an arraignment will be held in open court. The judge will explain the nature of the charges to the defendant and ask for a plea. Without the assistance of an attorney, defendants will often plead guilty at this initial stage. By doing so, they are giving up important rights, as well as the opportunity to negotiate the terms of their sentence beforehand.

Discovery proceedings are another critical stage in a criminal case. This is when the defendant can demand that the prosecutor turn over copies of all of the evidence gathered by law enforcement. In DUI and DWI cases especially, the police reports, lab results, video recordings, and other items will likely determine whether the case settles or continues on to trial. To make informed decisions, the defendant must obtain these materials.

If the state fails to offer a plea bargain the defendant is willing to accept, the case will proceed to trial. This is the time to question witnesses and present argument to the jury. Conducting a trial is not for the layperson to attempt. Legal training is needed to perform effective cross-examination, comply with the rules of evidence, and so forth. After all, the outcome may determine whether the defendant walks free, or goes to jail.

Criminal Law - Know your Rights!

  • A Guide to Navigating a Criminal Defense Case

    A criminal trial can be very difficult to navigate. Usually, a person accused of a crime should hire a criminal defense lawyer to help them with their case. In this comprehensive guide to a criminal defense case learn how a criminal case works from start to finish. Discover more about the different types of criminal charges, what laws govern law enforcement officers, when you should hire a lawyer, and how bail and probation laws work.

  • Are 3D Printed Plastic Guns Legal?

    The arrival of 3D printing technology has led to some amazing new possibilities for things like replicating broken parts, creating amazing works of 3D art, and manufacturing entire items from patters found online. But, as is usually the case with any new technology, someone finds a way to use it for something sinister. Several creators invented 3D printed plastic guns and made plans available online. But, are these 3D printed plastic guns legal?

  • Are Arrest Records Public?

    The general rule is that arrest records are public records. However, each state can determine whether they wish for such records to be readily available to the public

  • How Do You Get Out of Jail After an Arrest?

    Generally, one can get out of jail by posting bail. Bail is usually cash or a piece of property pledged to the court as part of a promise that the defendant (the person who has been arrested) will return to court when ordered to do so.

  • How Much Can You Legally Get Away With Saying to a Cop?

    First, a word of warning: doing anything to aggravate a police officer is a really bad idea. Not only are these hard working men and women who likely want to make the world a better place through their work, but they are trained bad asses with guns, handcuffs, and nightsticks and they can really make your life unpleasant.

  • How to Get a Criminal Record Expunged

    Expungement refers to the process of sealing arrest and conviction records. Virtually every state has enacted laws that allow people to expunge arrests and convictions from their records, but the details will vary from state to state.

  • Is a Polygraph Test Admissible as Evidence?

    Have you ever wondered why, in a system of justice that relies so heavily upon people telling the truth, every witness is not strapped to a polygraph machine (i.e., a lie detector)? It is a logical question that leads to others about how interrogations and investigations are conducted when polygraphs are used. So, is a polygraph test admissible as evidence?

  • Saying No to Police Searches

    Police are trained to believe in their authority and trained to perform their interactions with private citizens with confidence and strength.

  • Victimized by the Law: Weird Examples of Penalties Against Crime Victims

    For example, we have all heard the stories about the burglar who breaks into a home and injures himself then suing the homeowner.

  • What Happens if I Am Not Read My Rights?

    While many believe that if they are not "read their rights" they will escape punishment for criminal acts, it is not quite so clear cut. Instead, if one is not read their rights, then any evidence obtained from the suspect prior to being advised of their Miranda Rights may be inadmissible as evidence at trial.

  • What is an Alibi and How Does it Work?

    In simplest terms, an alibi is merely evidence that demonstrates a defendant in a criminal case was somewhere other than the scene of a crime at the time that the crime occurred.

  • What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

    At the most basic level, the fundamental difference between jail and prison is the length of stay for inmates.

  • What Kinds of Defenses Can I Use in a Criminal Case?

    All people accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty, either in a trial or as a result of pleading guilty.

  • When Should You Accept a Plea Bargain in your Criminal Case?

    Under that kind of stress, it can be very tempting to accept the first plea offer made to you by the prosecutor.

Criminal Laws by State

  • California Criminal Defense Law

    California categorizes crimes differently than they are categorized under federal law. There are also differences in how criminals are processed under California law than under federal law. California generally defines a "crime" or "public offense" as an act that constitutes a violation of a law.

  • California Criminal Defense Law Guide

    As one of the largest criminal court systems in the United States, the California criminal legal system can be difficult to understand. Individuals who find themselves involved in the California court system need to be educated on the court process and how to seek help. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn everything about the California criminal legal system from white collar law, sentencing guidelines, violent crime law, and more.

  • Florida Criminal Law

    Individuals who are charged with a criminal offense in Florida should have a strong understanding of the criminal justice system and the possible defenses that they may be able to raise.

  • Illinois Criminal Law

    There are a variety of laws in Illinois that impact the rights of individuals charged with crimes in the state. Many of these laws are discussed below. It is important to understand the nature of the charges that you are confronting and the potential penalties if convicted of the crime.

  • Minnesota Criminal Law

    When defendants are charged with the violation of a criminal law in Minnesota, it is important that they understand the nature of the charges against them, the possible penalties and the criminal procedures that may affect them.

  • Texas Criminal Law

    If you are charged with a crime in Texas, it is important that you understand your rights and various laws that may impact you. Below, we discuss commonly charged crimes in Texas, the classification of various crimes and potential penalties.

Articles About Criminal Defense

  • If You Are Charged With a Misdemeanor in Texas
    While misdemeanors are less serious charges than felonies, this does not mean that a misdemeanor charge is inconsequential. A misdemeanor conviction can leave you facing serious fines and penalties – in addition to a range of social consequences that you may not have anticipated. If you are facing a misdemeanor charge, it is time to reach out for the professional legal guidance of an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney.
  • Finding the Right Lawyer for Your Georgia DUI Case among NW Georgia Attorneys
    If you need legal representation for a DUI or other criminal defense case in Georgia, it is crucial to limit your search to criminal defense attorneys. An experienced defense lawyer who is familiar with, and well-known, to the local court where your case is filed, may be crucial for you to obtain the best outcome for your criminal case. When choosing an attorney for criminal defense, consider his or her experience, track record, and recognition and "standing" in the legal community. If you look at national lawyers’ ratings directories, it seems that all the best criminal lawyers in Georgia are clustered in the major cities, but that is not necessarily true.
  • Northwest Georgia Lawyer Near Me explains Filing for Separation and Divorce in Georgia
    Divorce can have lasting emotional and legal effects. Both separation and divorce affect adults and children emotionally in the short and long term. Getting legal help during the process can help you sleep better and perform better in your daily activities. This article by NW Georgia native Walt Moffitt, discusses how to separate, including finding the right court to file for divorce. Also, a couple getting divorced must wait before the marriage is officially over, and they can't live together during this time.
  • Understanding Marijuana Laws in Texas
    If you are having a difficult time deciphering marijuana laws in Texas, you are not alone. The most important thing to remember is that marijuana is not legal in any capacity other than for limited medical exceptions that involve a prescription in the state. Texas takes marijuana-related charges very seriously. If you or someone you care about is facing a marijuana charge, enlist the help of an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney.
  • Finding a Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney near me in Northwest Georgia: Chattooga County
    If you need legal representation for a criminal defense case in Northwest Georgia, it is crucial to limit your search to experienced criminal defense attorneys near me. Because driving in America is a necessity for most, a majority of crimes for which accused citizens are charged in the Peach State are for motor vehicle crimes like DUI, hit and run GA, reckless driving GA, vehicular homicide GA, or serious injury by vehicle. When choosing an attorney in NW GA for criminal defense, consider the attorney's experience, track record, and recognition in the legal community. If you look at national lawyers’ ratings directories, it seems that some of most experienced criminal lawyers in Georgia are clustered in the major cities, but that is not necessarily true.
  • Supreme Court’s Impact on Colorado Stalking Law
    Stalking is a crime under Colorado Law. The definition of the criminal offense is broader than the common understanding the of term. Stalking can include repeated communication or actions. Such communication would need to be such that a reasonable person would suffer serious emotional distress. The person must suffer serious emotional distress.
  • Cannabis Possession Laws in Ohio - What You Need to Know
    Recently, the legalization of recreational marijuana was put to the vote on the Ohio ballot. However, it was narrowly shot down, resulting in marijuana remaining illegal to buy, sell, and consume in Cincinnati. Despite the close margin, the current laws and regulations surrounding marijuana use remain in place, emphasizing the need to adhere to the existing legal framework in the city.
  • What to Do If You Are a Victim of Sexual Harassment in Mississippi
    Sexual harassment is a serious problem that affects many people. Unfortunately, sexual harassment can happen anywhere, including work, school, or in public places. Sexual harassment often has significant detrimental impacts on an individual’s well-being, causing physical, emotional, and psychological harm. In such cases, it is essential to seek legal representation to help understand and protect your rights and seek justice. In this blog, we will explore some of the reasons why one might need a sexual harassment lawyer.
  • What Is the Process for Getting an OFAC Clearance in 2023?
    Companies and individuals listed as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the Department of the Treasury face severe economic hardship for being the targets of American economic and trade sanctions. Petitioning to get cleared from the list of sanctioned parties is essential. 
  • Basics of Becoming an Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower
    What is Money Laundering? Money laundering is the movement of illicit cash or cash equivalents into, out of, or through U.S. businesses or financial institutions. An example is when unlawfully obtained money is routed through multiple banks and businesses to conceal the original source of those funds. This definition includes criminal money laundering, such as transacting money and financial instruments which represent the proceeds of unlawful activity. And importantly, the AMLA now rewards whistleblowers who disclose violations when individuals or entities from sanctioned countries such as Russia are using United States banks to move their funds. It is estimated that there’s billions in monies that originate from Russia, but whose origin is concealed and the government is looking to make an example of an entity that is functioning in that manner.
  • All Criminal Defense Law Articles

Find a Lawyer