Criminal law is the aspect of law that relates to illegal or disallowed conduct or practices in a society.
Certain actions are banned by law or government policies, and are consequently seen as crimes. Criminal law involves enforcement of punishments against criminal law offenders defending innocent persons against allegations of violations of criminal law.
The primary purpose of outlawing certain conducts is to protect society and enforce the sanctity of human dignity. The duty of a Court and law enforcement agencies is to ensure that the provisions of extant Criminal laws are applied or administered uniformly to every member of the public.
It is impracticable for legislators to make a law that directed at a particular person. Criminal offenders are punished purposely for deterrence of certain behaviors, retribution, prevention of additional offenses and rehabilitation of offenders in line with the law.
What Makes an Act a Crime under US Criminal Law
An act is not a crime merely because it is a prohibited behavior by law; rather an act is deemed as a crime based on the penalties or punishment attached to the violation.
When an offender is accused of a criminal act, the person’s freedom is usually restrained. Each crime carries a limited or maximum penalty which it must not exceed. In most cases penalties or punishment are awarded by fines and for more severe offences a jail term upon conviction by a Court of Competent jurisdiction.
A criminal offense often has other penalties such as a fine, probation and placing a record of the offense on a person’s public, criminal history. However, the distinguishing characteristic of criminal law is that a person who commits a criminal offense might spend time in jail or prison.
Felony, Misdemeanors and Simple Offences
Crimes are generally classified as felony, misdemeanor, and Simple offenses. Generally, under the US Administration of Criminal Justice System, a crime is a felony if the maximum punishment upon conviction of an offender under the Criminal Law for a period more than One Year jail term. Jail term for a felony is usually spent in a state prison rather than a local jail. On the other hand, a misdemeanor is a crime that attracts a maximum imprisonment term or punishment of less than one year.
In some other jurisdiction of the common wealth, simple offences are offences that attracts a jail term of a period equal to or less than six months or fine.
Some states in US classify offences punishable by fine as low-level misdemeanors. An example is a minor drives with blood alcohol content in the State of Michigan will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by only a fine and community service.
The United States administration of Criminal Justice allows all levels of government to make enactments prohibiting crimes and providing maximum punishments against offenders. The federal government, state governments and local authorities can enact laws to prohibit certain actions and the consequent penalty as well as ensure that the law is enforced.
The Federal Court exercises criminal jurisdiction over a federal crime. Same applies to States and Local authority provided always that the charge is filed before a Court of competent jurisdiction. The prosecution of an offense before an inappropriate Court can be a ground of objections.
A criminal case commences with an arrest or the filing of formal charges. A State attorney ultimately reserves the discretion whether or not to charge a person with a crime. The police or other security agency can make an initial arrest; however, a offender will not be said to face his charge formally until the State attorney files same.
Arraignment Under US Criminal Law
An arraignment is the first court appearance of a offender in a Criminal trial before a judge. Upon arraignment, the judge or magistrate will officially read the charge to the accused person, and set a bond amount and conditions of the bond. However, in exceptional and severe cases, the Judge may order law enforcement to hold the accused person without bond until the trial is determined.
The accused person through his defense attorney will be given time and authority to draw together information relevant to put up a defense in the case. The defense attorney, if necessary may effect service of a discovery demand on the state attorney to produce specific evidence in their custody concerning the case.
The state attorney is under ethical obligation to furnish the defense with such evidence that might be favorable to their defense.
Parties in a criminal case may reach a resolution to settle the matter amicably to stop the case from going to trial. Upon a amicable settlement and depending on the nature or severity of the case, the state might agree to dismiss the charges unconditionally or with conditions, or upon a plea resolution also know as plea bargain.
The judge or jury will proceed to hear the matter at a formal trial where parties are unable to resolve or settle the case. If the accused person is found not guilty by the jury, the defendant will be discharged and the case will be dismissed. If they find the defendant guilty, the case will proceed to conviction and sentencing according the provision of the extant laws.