The Basics of Criminal Law

Criminal law is the area of law that deals with investigating, prosecuting and punishing criminals. Unlike civil law which deals with noncriminal behavior and protects individual rights, criminal law deals with wrongdoing that breaches local or national regulations.

Criminal law is founded upon the idea that crime is any wrongdoing prohibited by law and punishable by loss of liberty (incarceration). This authority is granted either by the state or federal government, which defines crimes and their punishments in statutes.

Generally, criminal behavior involves three elements: an act or conduct (actus reus); the individual’s mental state at the time of commission (mens rea), and causation between them. Actus reus can be achieved through direct action, threat of action, or omission to act.

Mens rea is determined by several factors, including the purpose for which an act is performed, the individual’s knowledge and their capacity for understanding its consequences. Typically, this must be demonstrated in such a way that clearly shows they were aware of breaking the law.

People commit crimes for many reasons. Some do it to gain money or power, some out of revenge, while others simply act out of self-gratification.

Some people aspire to be rich and famous, while others simply want to enjoy life. Some may not feel free if their desires aren’t fulfilled; nonetheless, these individuals still want some level of control in their lives.

Criminals of this nature tend to commit more serious offenses than average citizens, and the severity of the charge determines how much punishment the defendant will receive.

Criminal penalties may include imprisonment, fines and community service. There are also other types of sanctions such as probation and parole that may be applied.

In both the United States and each state, constitutional limitations exist on what the government can do in criminal cases. Courts interpret these laws to guarantee that these limits do not exceed what is allowed.

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In most criminal cases, the government begins an investigation with police assistance and presents evidence to the court – this process is known as public prosecutions.

Defendants have certain rights that are guaranteed by both the United States Constitution and each state’s constitution, such as the right to remain silent during proceedings, access to a public trial, and not being tried twice for the same crime. Therefore, those accused of serious crimes should seek legal counsel from an experienced criminal lawyer with a proven record in representing those accused.

Criminal law can be a complex and intimidating field. Earning a degree in this area of law takes years, while becoming an experienced practicing attorney takes even longer. A skilled attorney makes all the difference in how a case is handled.

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