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Kristen S. Simpson
Criminal law involves the laws and rules that define what behavior is a crime and further define how such crimes are prosecuted and punished. Criminal law can get very complicated and when you are faced with being charged with a crime, legal representation is essential. Crimes are charged and put on trial by prosecutors representing the government. Criminal law is further complicated by the fact that there are local, state and federal laws defining criminal activity requiring considerable legal knowledge and experience to defend against.
Defendants in a criminal case have protections given to us by the constitution. The fifth amendment provides that a defendant does not have to testify against him or herself. The so-called “Miranda rights” demand that the police are obligated to warn a defendant that he or she does not have to say anything and has the right to an attorney. The sixth amendment protects the defendant from illegal questioning and interrogation. The eight amendment protects against excessive punishment. The constitution also provides protection against illegal search and seizure. If prosecutors want to enter a house to search for evidence, they must have a warrant to do so, and they can only get a warrant if they show a judge that they have “probable cause” to believe the evidence of a crime is available. They can’t go on a fishing expedition. They have to specify very carefully what they are looking for.
If any of these constitutional rights are violated by the police, the prosecutor has a more difficult time providing evidence. Evidence that is not obtained legally may be disallowed by a judge and in some cases a judge may even dismiss the charges against a defendant if these rights are violated
In every case, the prosecutor must prove with evidence that the crime was committed by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The law involving a particular crime or group of crimes defines very clearly what has to be proven to assign guilt. The defendant does not have to prove innocence. A defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty in a trial.
Although crimes can vary from federal to state, they can be broadly categorized as felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are serious crimes such as robbery and murder. Misdemeanors are minor crimes which call for minimum punishment, depending on the crime.