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What is criminal (defense) law?


Criminal law is an area of law that relates to certain conduct that is dangerous to citizens, or damaging to the society. Such conduct is labeled a "crime" and is made punishable by fines, imprisonment, or other sentences. What is deemed as a crime and its corresponding punishment varies by federal, state and local government levels.

Criminal law does not concern itself with disputes between individuals. State and local government jurisdictions, define and prosecute people who commit crimes that range from minor traffic violations to serious, violent offenses like assault, battery and murder. Whereas a criminal case filed in federal court, involves a violation of a federal law or the alleged crime took place on federal property.

A person who is charged with a crime is called the defendant. The governmental body (state, local or federal) that files and pursues the charges against the defendant is represented by an attorney called a prosecutor.

The elements that make up an illegal offense is dependent on the crime itself. However generally speaking, there are two elements necessary for a crime to occur. One is that the defendant must have committed an illegal act. The second is the defendant must have committed that act with intention.

Types of crimes

Crimes range widely in scale. From traffic violations like a speeding ticket which is considered an infraction, to much more serious felony charges like murder or rape. Crimes are divided into three major categories: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. Felonies are the most serious and can result in a longer punishment, even death. People who commit a misdemeanor crime typically receive less than a year of jail time or sometimes none at all. Often times with both felonies and misdemeanors, the offender will receive a fine as well. An infraction is a much less serious offense, and always a non-violent crime. A person who receives an infraction will receive a fine and possibly points or their driving record.

A few examples of felonies:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery

A few examples of misdemeanors:

  • First-time DUI/DWI
  • Vandalism
  • Theft

A few examples of infractions:

  • Speeding ticket
  • Reckless driving
  • Parking tickets

If you're charged with a serious crime, it's necessary to obtain the legal counsel of a defense attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, one will be provided to you. Defendants can choose self-representation, as well.

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