January 11, 2017

Criminal Law by Definition: Purpose, Types, and Legal Implications

criminal law definition

The Evolution of Criminal Law

Criminal law in North America began with British common law, which was followed strictly until the colonies revolted. After the United States had become an independent nation, the Constitution was ratified as the law of the land. A judiciary modeled off of the British system established common law, defining which actions could and could not be deemed criminal in nature.

These definitions have shifted significantly over the years as American law evolved using established legal codes and practices and focused more on individual rights.

‘Criminal’ as Defined by the US Justice System?

According to the United States Justice System, criminal refers to any action or offense that is deemed unlawful and therefore liable to punishment.

Criminal cases differ significantly from civil cases, as they can only be initiated by the government. As a result, the burden of proof rests with the government, and defendants need not prove their innocence. Evidence provided by government prosecutors must be so strong that there is no reasonable doubt that the alleged offender was responsible for the crime.

Acts Deemed as Criminal

A variety of acts is considered criminal in the United States, although there is considerable variation in definitions and penalties from one state to the next. The following are common acts referred to as Criminal:

Fines and Sentencing for Criminal Acts

Sentences for crimes depend largely on the type of act committed, the age of the alleged offender, and the offender’s criminal history. Those with a criminal background typically face far harsher sentences than those who have not been charged in the past. Criminal penalties may include jail sentences, mandatory participation in treatment programs, license suspension, fines, community service, and probation.

Fines are a common consequence for those who engage in criminal behavior. The extent of the fine is based on a variety of factors; fines may also range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Minimum or maximum fines are typically instated, with the courts given some leeway regarding how much to fine offenders. For example, assault with a deadly weapon in Nevada can result in a maximum fine of $5,000, while participation in a retail theft ring has a mandatory fine of up to $20,000 for losses exceeding $10,000.

The Process of the Criminal Defense Lawyer

The criminal defense lawyer’s job is to advocate for the rights of the accused individual. This means (1) representing the alleged offender during questioning; (2) analyzing all documents related to the case; (3) consulting with witnesses; (4) handling plea bargains; and (5) representing the alleged offender in court.

Although courtroom proceedings receive the bulk of the public attention, criminal defense lawyers spend far more time examining relevant documents, including photos, police reports, and medical records. In court, the criminal defense attorney presents the evidence he or she has uncovered and questions witnesses.

As 2017 commences, the role of criminal defense lawyer will remain as critical in Nevada as ever. A few criminal laws are expected to change, including, most notably, regulations regarding the consumption of cannabis. Recreational marijuana will be legal, although consumption in public will continue to be a misdemeanor. Alleged offenders may be most impacted by new legislation requiring officers who regularly interact with Nevada residents to wear body cameras.

Attorneys who understand these and other shifts in legislation will play a vital role in criminal justice proceedings in 2017.