Criminal Law in the US-Facts you must Know!

In simple terms, criminal law is the law that is concerned with the punishment of people guilty of a crime. In a criminal case, the government prosecutes the suspect and decides the punishment if found guilty.

What are Criminal Codes?

Each state in the US has its own criminal code by which designates certain acts as crimes. Further to this, the US government has codified federal criminal law in Title 18 of the US Code. As per this, the federal government has designated certain acts as crimes that states are bound to recognize as such.

The acts defined as crimes according to Title 18 are:

  • Arson
  • Use of chemical weapons
  • Embezzlement
  • Espionage
  • Counterfeit and Forgery
  • Genocide
  • Kidnapping

In case of any of such crimes, the course of action in the trial must adhere to the Federal Rules of criminal procedure.

What is a criminal act?

A criminal act is one that fulfills the three elements of a crime.

They are:

  1. “Actus Reus”: The act or conduct.
  2. “Mens Rea”: The mental state of the accused
  3. “Proximate causation”: The causation between the act and its effect.

When the government prosecutes a defendant in a criminal case, the onus is on the government to establish each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, “the burden of proof is on the government.”

In the US, four main types of crimes are defined. They are:

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Inchoate Offenses
  • Strict Liability Offenses

When the defendant is proved guilty of a crime, he is sentenced based on the type of crime. If the crime is a federal crime, he will be sentenced according to the Federal sentencing guidelines. In case, the type of crime is classified as a state crime, punishment will be meted out according to the guidelines set by the state.

In case multiple parties are involved in a particular crime, the prosecutor is required to prove the “actus reus” and “mens rea” of the accomplice in the crime as well. Some jurisdictions try the accomplice along with the perpetrator of the crime while in others they may be tried separately.

Criminal Defense:

The US law provides a defendant several criminal defenses in a criminal prosecution case.

Some common defenses used are:

  • The prosecution has failed to produce the necessary evidence to prove the crime.
  • Mistakes of law regarding the situation or mistake of a fact in the context can also be used as a defense.
  • Self-defense, if the individual had to commit the crime to protect himself/herself.
  • If a crime is committed to protect a property from a felony, then it can be defended as a defense of property.
  • Defense of others is another defense strategy that may be used in case an individual commits a crime to protect a third party.
  • “Necessity” is a defense used in cases where a crime is committed to avoid greater harm.

Autrey Law firm has a team of experienced criminal lawyers who are certified and licensed to practice in state, federal, and judicial courts in North Dakota and Minnesota.