Criminal Law Legality
As the name implies, criminal legality is the branch of law that oversees the prosecution of criminal acts, which can include both felonies and misdemeanors. Felony crimes are the more serious of two types of crimes, and are punishable with imprisonment sentences of one year or more, while misdemeanors are less serious and are punishable by imprisonment of one or year or less (but are most commonly sentenced with fines and/or community service, especially for first-time offenses).
Crimes are primarily deemed by local, state and federal governments (thus providing a lack of uniformity between states), however, some crimes are classified as “common law”, the uniformity and structure of which is laid out by the Model Penal Code.
Differing from civil law, in which individuals or organizations (plaintiffs) are seeking legal resolution, criminal cases are initiated by a prosecutor. Furthermore, civil law only requires an evidential majority (preponderance of evidence) to delineate liability, whereas in criminal cases, liability must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Criminal Law Lawyers
The role of a criminal defense lawyer, aka defense attorney, is comprehensive, necessitating extensive knowledge and numerous responsibilities both inside and outside of the courtroom. In addition to arguing cases and questioning witnesses inside the courtroom, a defense attorney’s responsibilities include taking part in negotiations with prosecutors, communicating with and educating defendants, hiring and managing investigators, gathering information from witnesses, acquiring documents, researching case specifics and handling post-trial issues.
Above all, the most important weapon a defense attorney can possess is having extensive knowledge of the Constitution - particularly the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments (which are guaranteed to defendants accused of crimes by way of the Fourteenth Amendment). Constitutional violations of these amendments can result in the admissibility of evidence and other factors that can favor their clients case.
While it is more common for defense attorneys to partake in trial preparation (after a crime has been charged), pre-trial responsibilities surrounding arrests with no criminal charges and criminal investigations are often dealt with by criminal lawyers who have been hired by clients to provide counsel and representation when communicating with police and investigators.
What to Look for in a Private Defense Attorney
As mentioned, a good private defense attorney should possess considerable knowledge regarding the Constitution, and should be acutely aware of one’s rights under the Constitution in regards to being charged with a crime (the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments in particular).
It is important to seek out a lawyer who specializes in criminal law, as opposed to a civil law attorney. Private defense attorneys often practice independently or within small law firms and partnerships, whereas civil defense lawyers often practice within large corporate firms with a regional presence.
Experience is an important consideration. Typically, private defense attorney’s have prior experience in government positions, such as a district attorney or public defender. Many also have prior experience as private detectives.
Having direct experience with the crime/charges in question is a must. Considering the large range of offenses and intricacies of criminal law, finding a private defense attorney who either specializes in or who has considerable experience defending clients charged with the same crime is imperative. It is also worth considering an attorney’s local experience, considering the procedural differences between counties. Local experience not only provides an attorney with insight into how appointed officials prefer to work, it helps foster relationships which a reputable attorney can wield to help their clients. For example, in state’s with “wobbler” felony crimes, reputable lawyers can have these types of crimes reduced to misdemeanors.
Last but not least, a good private defense attorney should be highly personable, trustworthy and possess excellent communication skills.