Are You a Legal Professional?

Criminal Law Basics

Since criminal law is such a broad subject area, navigating it can be an overwhelming task if you lack an understanding of the controlling laws and procedures. This section provides an introduction to the basic principles behind the criminal justice system, including police investigations, criminal trials, classifications of crimes, and the mental states required of certain crimes. You'll find articles on self-defense and stand your ground laws, the differences between felonies and misdemeanors, the role of the jury in a criminal trial, the steps from being charged to going to trial, and how civil suits differ from criminal cases.

Mens Rea

Mens Rea is a fancy way to say "mental state." Culpable Mental State refers to the state of mind of an individual while committing a crime. Generally, a crime requires that a guilty act or omission (the actus reus) be committed with the required degree of guilty mind. Generally, certain acts are crimes only if done with a particular state of mind, and that a certain sort of criminal act is more or less serious depending on the perpetrator's state of mind at the time. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that, the accused did so with the state of mind required for the commission of that particular crime in order to convict the accused. A very few acts that amounts to strict liability offenses are criminal, however they are done. The term, Culpable Mental State is synonymous with mens rea (guilty mind).

Classification of a Crime

The classification of a crime is based on the extent of punishment that can be given for committing it. There are two major types of crimes in the United States: felonies and misdemeanors. The punishment is usually based on the seriousness of the crime. States may differ as to the classification of any particular crime. A crime committed in one state may be classified differently than if it was committed in another state.

A felony is considered a serious crime. Most states and the federal government classify a crime that’s punishable by more than one year in prison as a felony. A felony that’s punishable by death is considered a capital crime.

A misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime. Most states and the federal government classify a crime that’s punishable by less than one year in prison as a misdemeanor. Some states consider a misdemeanor as any crime that’s punishable only by fine or a small length of time in jail. If a misdemeanor is considered a very minor offense, such as jaywalking, the crime may be classified as a petty offense.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You

Attorneys aren't needed for every criminal case, but in many cases legal assistance can be beneficial, if not crucial. With the complex nature of some criminal procedures and emotions running high, it often helps to have a knowledgeable resource for information and a skilled advocate for negotiations and likely court proceedings.

Criminal defense lawyers know about the different pleas that a person may make. Negotiating with the prosecution for a reduced sentence is one of the most important parts of a trial. A good lawyer may be able to negotiate a compromise with the prosecution for a less severe sentence for a particular person charged with a crime.