The Basics of Criminal Law

In its most basic breakdown, the law is largely broken down into two categories: civil law and criminal law. For a civil law matter, individuals often enlist the services of an attorney who practices in the specific area that relates to the case. Examples include attorneys who specialize in family law, bankruptcy, workers rights, or personal injury. On the other hand, people involved in a criminal law case hire a criminal attorney to fight for them in court.

Individuals involved in a criminal legal case may appear in court on a number of occasions. There are many types of activities that take place in the court room, including arraignments, preliminary hearings, trials, motions, sentencing, and others. Here's a quick review of these basic courtroom activities:

During an arraignment, a person who has been charged in a legal case hears the charges brought against them.

A preliminary hearing often takes place to review whether guidelines of a parole have been violated.

A trial is the formal process in which evidence is presented and reviewed in a criminal or civil case. The evidence is typically presented to one or more judges and a jury.

Motions are brought to the court in order to request that the judge make an immediate decision on a particular aspect of the case. For example, a "motion to dismiss," might claim that the entire case should be thrown out because the appropriate statute of limitations has expired.

Sentencing is the part of the case where a defendant who has been deemed guilty in a case is notified of his or her sentence.

Within the realm of criminal law, there are three major types of cases. The first group are known as infraction crimes. Even if found guilty of an infraction crime, jail time is not a possible sentencing. The most common type of infraction crimes are vehicle moving violations, which includes speeding tickets. Another group of crimes that fall under the category of criminal law are misdemeanor crimes, which include many acts ranging from prostitution to petty crime. Vandalism, spousal abuse, and drunk driving also fall into this category. Sentencing for misdemeanors may include jail time and fines. The final category of felony crimes include the heaviest of charges, including murder, robbery, and rape. Significant jail time and even death, in some states, may be sentenced in these cases. The consequences of being found guilty in a criminal law case can be severe, so defendants in these cases rely heavily on their criminal attorney.

As noted above, there are many types of legal cases that fall under the category of criminal law. Everything from a simple traffic violation to a potential homicide are covered under this broad-reaching area of the law. A criminal attorney may specialize in just one of these categories or may practice across the entire spectrum. It's important to note that a conviction in a criminal law case is likely to stay on an individual's record permanently.