Did you know that more than 100 million cases are filed each year in state trial courts? If you or a family member recently found yourself in legal trouble, or you are going to school to become a criminal attorney, we have put together this guide to share the ins and outs of a criminal law case.
Read on to learn everything there is to know about a criminal case.
Burden of Proof
Anytime there is a criminal case, the government has the burden of proof. This means that they have to provide enough evidence to the jury that the defendant is guilty. The defendant, on the other hand, does not have to prove their innocence.
The evidence has to be so strong that it leaves no reasonable doubt that the defendant did in fact commit the crime.
First, there is an initial appearance where a judge reviews both the arrest and post-arrest investigation reports. Then the judge will advise the defendant of the charges that were filed against them.
Here is where the judge makes the decision if they are going to keep the defendant in jail until their trial or allow them to pay a bail and await trial while they live their regular lives. Sometimes, if they are allowed to leave without being held in jail, they might be required to take drug tests or have electronic monitoring. This depends on the severity of the crime.
During the pretrial, a defendant has the opportunity to enter a plea (guilty or not guilty). Around 90% of defendants opt to plead guilty and settle because they do not want to go to trial and have their peers make a call on their future. When a defendant pleads guilty, then the government will agree to a more lenient sentence, or they might agree to drop certain charges.
With a criminal case, there is a limited pretrial discovery proceeding, which is very similar to civil cases. The main difference is that with criminal cases, there are restrictions in place that help protect intimidation of witnesses and the identity of government informants.
Also, attorney’s such as a domestic violence lawyer might file motions where they request for the court to set certain rulings before the trial date. An example of a common motion filed is requesting for certain evidence to be suppressed if it violates a defendant’s constitutional rights.
When a defendant goes to trial, and they are found not guilty, they are released, and the government does not have a chance to appeal the verdict. Also, the defendant can’t be charged for the same offense again in a federal court. The reason is that the Constitution prohibits being tried twice for the same offense, which is called “double jeopardy.”
In the event that the verdict is guilty after a trial, then the judge will determine the sentence that the defendant will receive. The court might take into consideration the evidence that was produced at trial and the U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines.
The sentence will vary based on the crime and evidence presented, but it might include fines to be paid back to the government, prison time, restitution paid to any crime victims. Sometimes it is a combination of all of the above during the sentence.
Common Criminal Defense Cases
Most states will categorize criminal cases depending on the type of crime. Usually, this depends on the seriousness of the crime that was committed. For the most part, misdemeanors and citations are considered the lowest in the severity group, which results in a short jail stay and some fines.
The most severe cases are felony crimes, which tend to have a more severe punishment such as prison time instead of local jail time.
Some common criminal defenses include:
- Strong alibi
In most crimes against a person, an attorney will use self-defense. This is typically the case for those that are involved in altercations or fights. No matter what the case is, a criminal defendant is always presumed innocent until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
When certain defenses are used to justify or excuse a person’s poor behavior, then it can prevent a criminal conviction, or it can reduce a charge. For example, if an attorney pleads insanity for the defendant, then they will be evaluated to see if this is true.
If they are found to be “insane” then the defendant might be taken to special therapy or have solitary in jail where they also receive help for their mental situation.
Does Every Case Need an Attorney?
When someone is facing a criminal charge, it is a good idea to have an experienced professional on their side. Most people are not familiar with criminal laws and can find themselves in a lot of trouble if they don’t know certain laws that can work to their benefit.
An attorney will determine if you have a defense for your specific case after they evaluate your circumstances.
Feeling Like a Criminal Law Case Pro?
Now that you have learned everything there is to know about a criminal law case, you are hopefully feeling better informed. Whether you are going to school to be an attorney or are in a bit of legal trouble, our guide should give you a better idea of what to expect. Did our article help you out? Please continue browsing the rest of our legal section for our latest guides.