There are two types of laws in the United States which are meant to punish wrongdoing and to compensate victims of bad acts. These bodies of law are called criminal law and civil law.
Civil laws are intended to deal with behaviors that cause injury to another individual or a private party by means of a lawsuit. The consequences for a party that is found liable for this type of act is typically in a monetary form. However, it may also include a court-ordered remedy such as an injunction or a restraining order.
Criminal laws, on the other hand, are intended to punish behaviors which are considered offenses against society, the state, or the public, even if the victim of the crime is an individual person. An individual who is charged with a crime is called a defendant.
If a defendant is convicted of a crime, they can be forced to pay criminal fines and may also lose their freedom by being sentenced to prison or jail time. No matter whether a defendant is charged with a minor crime or a serious offense, they have the right to a trial as well as other legal protections.
What Does Criminal Law Procedure Mean?
Only two entities can bring a criminal case against a defendant, a state government or the federal government. This is why cases are stylized as United States v. Defendant or State v. Defendant.
Whether the defendant is charged in a state court or in federal court depends on the crime with which they are being charged and where the alleged offense occurred. Each state has its own unique set of criminal laws. However, there are Constitutional rights and protections which apply to every defendant, no matter the offense or where it occurred.
These rights and protections include:
- The right to a speedy trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. It guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial in order to prevent the accused from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
- The right to a trial by jury, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Many jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive a jury trial in favor of a bench trial, where their guilt is determined by a judge, but this is the defendant’s option. This right applies only to criminal prosecution, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
- Miranda rights, which stem from a famous Supreme Court case. Miranda rights give a criminal defendant access to an attorney whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense; and
- Protection against self-incrimination, or pleading the fifth. This Constitutional protection provides that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interests.
Because there are different procedural rules in every jurisdiction, the timing and steps of criminal trials may vary widely. All trials, however, are typically broken down into two phases, the guild phase and the sentencing phase.
During the guilt phase, a prosecutor and the defense present evidence to the jury proving or disproving that the defendant’s behavior has met or has not met all of the elements of the particular criminal charge the defendant is facing. The prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof in American law, that the defendant committed the actus reus, or criminal activity, with the required mens rea, or mental state or intent required by the charge.
If the judge or jury determines that all of these elements have been met, they can find the defendant guilty. Following this, the sentencing phase occurs.
As the name suggests, the sentencing phase is the phase in which the judge or jury examines the applicable federal or state laws which dictate the punishment range for the crime or the crimes that a defendant was convicted of.
The judge or jury will examine many different factors, including:
- The defendant’s previous criminal history;
- Any aggravating or mitigating factors; and
- Any other pertinent facts to determine the defendant’s proper punishment.
Once both of these phases are completed, a defendant will officially receive their punishment, which may include criminal fines, jail or prison time, or both.
What are Some Types of Common Criminal Charges?
Criminal charges are classified from less serious petty offenses, such as simple theft, to more serious offenses, such as drug trafficking and murder. Each jurisdiction as well as the federal courts have different ways in which to classify these crimes, including:
What criminal offense a defendant can be charged with depends on the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred. There may be confusion in some cases regarding whether the offense will be charged under state law or federal law. The best way to understand the different possibilities is to consult with a criminal defense attorney for advice.
Criminal laws vary widely from state to state. For example, a criminal law in North Dakota may vary greatly from those of other regions including Montana. It is important for an individual to familiarize themselves with local laws to determine what criminal actions fall under what statutes.
How can a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Help?
A Los Angeles criminal attorney can assist in many ways. As noted above, laws vary greatly by jurisdiction.
A Los Angeles criminal attorney will be aware of what local, state, and federal laws apply to offenses committed in the area. They will also be aware of any new changes or updates to the criminal laws which may affect a defendant.
If an individual is charged with a crime in the Los Angeles area, they should contact a local defense attorney as soon as possible. A Los Angeles defense attorney is best equipped to assist a defendant and fight for the best outcome in their case.
Are There any Unique Criminal Laws in Los Angeles?
There are several key changes to criminal laws in the Los Angeles area which took effect on January 1, 2021, these include:
- Misdemeanor diversion, pursuant to Assembly Bill 3234, authorizes a judge to offer misdemeanor diversion to most offenders. If the defendant complies with the terms, the criminal action will be dismissed and the record will be erased. Certain domestic violence charges, stalking, and registerable sex offenses are ineligible;
- Reduced sex offender registration, pursuant to Senate Bill 384, which could reduce those required to register for life by up to 90%. A new three-tier system defines registration requirements in terms of 10 years, 20 years, or a lifetime, depending on the severity of the offense;
- Restoring felon voting rights, pursuant to Proposition 17, which gives approximately 50,000 felons on probation the right to vote;
- Capped probation terms, pursuant to Assembly Bill 1950, which provides a maximum one-year probation term for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony offense, with some exceptions;
- Changes to how problem juveniles are handled in schools, pursuant to Assembly Bill 901, the punishment of insubordinate, disorderly students is changing from probation programs to community-based programs.
Los Angeles criminal law may be subject to various other updates and changes. It is important to seek the advice of a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to see how these changes apply.
Do I Need to Hire a Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a Los Angeles criminal lawyer if you are facing criminal charges in the area. Being a defendant can be a confusing and overwhelming situation.
Depending on the charges against you, a conviction can have very serious consequences, including loss of your freedom and a permanent criminal record. Your criminal lawyer will advise you of your rights, ensure those rights are protected throughout your case, and represent you any time you have to appear in court. Remember, having an attorney in a criminal case is your right, so find one as soon as possible.