Criminal laws are set to protect the public from wrongful conduct and to keep them safe. When a law is violated, the individual will face fines or incarcerations as penalties. The nature of the American criminal justice system is very complex, and most offenses or violations would require an attorney’s assistance.
The consequences for violating specific crimes can be found in penal codes enacted by local, state or federal level legislators.
Offenses that are relatively less serious such as petty theft, drunk driving or possession of controlled substances in small amounts are all considered as misdemeanors.
Felonies are crimes of more severe natures. Examples of these include burglary, rape, crimes that come in white collar jobs such as laundering or embezzlement. The punishment for these offenses will be a year or more in a federal or state prison.
In order to interpret criminal statues, lawyers and judges refer to previous court opinions on the same issue to arrive at a conclusion, and this is called “stare decisis.” The stare decisis states that for a given set of circumstances for which the court has issued a statement, that particular ruling can be a binding precedent for any similar disputes that occur on a later date.
As defendants aren’t familiar with the court system, they are likely to be presented with traps that come with the criminal prosecution process. That is why in order to prevent them from saying or doing anything which may increase the chances of conviction, criminal defense lawyers are trained to counter precisely this. In the event that a lawyer hasn’t been hired, the accused may waive their rights and thereby harm their interests unknowingly.
Law enforcement officers will try to exploit their unfamiliarity by pushing for a confession after reciting their Miranda rights. Whatever is said during this period can possibly be used as incriminating statements against the defendant in the court.
Most defendants, when asked for a plea, will often plead guilty in the absence of an attorney which will negate them of essential rights from the beginning itself. This includes giving up the opportunity to negotiate terms of the sentence.
Another critical stage in a case is the discovery proceedings where the copies of the evidence gathered by the prosecutor can be demanded to be shown by the defendant. These include lab results, police reports, or even video recordings. This procedure is done to check whether the case can be settled or continued to trial.
If a plea bargain is declined by the defendant, a trial will be initiated where witnesses are questioned. All of this is done in order to conclusively determine whether the defendant will go to jail or walks free.