Criminal Laws in the US

Every civil society requires a set of rules that govern behavior that make it easy to co-exist in a society without causing harm or deterring one from doing so. The criminal law system punishes individuals who commit crimes against others. This however is different from civil matters. In civil cases, the individuals pursue a matter against another individual. But in a criminal trial, the entire system is designed in a way wherein the crime is assumed to be committed against the State. It is because of this that the government pursues the trial and decides how and why it wants to punish an individual who has committed a crime or an act of omission.

Each state legislates its criminal codes to decide what forms a crime and what punishment it deserves. There are also federal criminal codes that are drafted by Congress to punish certain conduct. Title 18 of the US code contains all such Federal criminal laws. It punishes crimes such as arson kidnapping, espionage, and many such crimes. All these statutes prescribe a maximum and minimum amount of sentencing, fines, or community service that it deems appropriate for any convict.

A criminal procedure code is also established that governs the conduct of the trial itself. It contains when and how any trial for a crime can take place. It ensures that public officials like the Police and the Courts do not abuse their power and partake in a trial with fairness. This code also establishes the elements of an offense and the principles of establishing a crime. Every crime has 3 main elements. The act of committing the crime the individual’s mental state at the time of committing the act or the “mens rea” and the causation between the act and the effect. In any criminal prosecution, it is upon the government to prove that the individual/s charged for any crime has committed it. The burden of proof is therefore not with the individuals alleging a crime, but with the government. This is called establishing a crime beyond a “reasonable doubt”.

There are various types of crimes that can exist in the US. They can largely be divided into four main categories. They are:

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Inchoate offenses
  • Strict liability offenses

The criminal code also provides for defenses that an accused can take.

There are several common defenses that individuals rely on. Some of them are:

  • Mistake of law:

    While it not might be entirely solid, an accused can claim that they made a mistake regarding the legal status or effect of a situation that caused or were a part of.

  • Self-defense:

    This is one of the most common defenses available to any accused. Any use of force against another individual can be justified if it can be proved that they were provoked to do so and retaliated reasonably to protect themselves.

  • Intoxication/ insanity:

    this partial defense is available to show that were not in the right state of mind when any criminal act was committed.

In case you require the services of an expert criminal lawyer, connect with Autrey Law Firm! We have over 30 years of experience in representing clients in different types of legal issues.