Criminal Law Tips

Read these 11 Criminal Law Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Legal tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Should I consult with an attorney before I speak to the police?

In a criminal situation, ask to speak to your attorney first before you give a statement to the police.

If you believe that you might be considered a suspect at the time of a crime or think that you could be considered a suspect at a later date, make sure you speak to an attorney before you speak freely with the police. Any information you give to the police, whether written or voiced, can be used against you in the court of law.

   
How do I know when I might need a criminal defense attorney?

How do I know when I might need a criminal defense attorney?

Obviously one instance that it would be strongly advisable to obtain a criminal attorney or criminal defense attorney would be if you find yourself in an arrest situation. While the old adage of “the right to remain silent” has been altered a bit in that you can be prosecuted for refusing to give police officers your real name, you are not obligated to say much more than that.

When it comes to deciding whether or not a criminal lawyer should be contacted, remember that no matter your intelligence or background, our legal system is set up such that it is virtually impossible to represent yourself in a criminal matter.

To protect your rights, you should always consult a specialist in criminal law. Even the best criminal attorney would hire a reputable attorney should he or she face the same situation. Emotions play too big of a factor when trying to present your case and because of the complexities of the law, no matter how educated you are, you will not be able to provide the best defense for yourself.

   
Is being tried in a state court different from being under federal criminal law?

Is being tried in a state court different from being under federal criminal law?

Because each state is autonomous with regard to its ability to create criminal laws, as well as civil laws within each state legislature, criminal laws can vary from state to state.

However, when it comes to being charged under federal criminal law, the outcome, regardless of the state in which a charge is made, should be the same. In addition to providing for the same under federal criminal law, someone being charged under federal criminal statutes will most generally face a more severe penalty than being charged with breaking a state criminal law.

Some type of criminal code and procedure, whether state or federal, will govern all criminal trials. State constitutions may add to the rules of criminal procedure, but may not take away from any of a person's federal rights or protections. Regardless of being charged in state criminal court or federal criminal court, the burden of proof is slightly different than a civil proceeding.

A criminal defense lawyer will need to provide representation to his/her client such that they show that there is a reasonable doubt that the crime being charged was not committed. In a civil proceeding, plaintiff must only show a preponderance of the evidence.

   
Can the police search my garbage without my consent?

Be careful what you throw away.

Your garbage becomes public property the minute you throw it away. By law garbage is considered abandoned material, which gives police the right to search through it without a warrant.

   
What does criminal law encompass?

What does criminal law encompass?

Criminal law pertains to prosecution by a government entity of an individual for an act that is deemed a crime by statute. As opposed to civil law, which is characterized by individuals and organizations seeking to resolve disputed legal issues, criminal law seeks to punish someone for a wrongdoing that they have intentionally committed against a person, persons or entity.

This begs the question of, what is a crime?

Crime is generally termed as any given act that violates public law. It may also include the act of omission as well, which would be failing to act according to public law. There may be a wide variance when it comes to criminal laws from state to state. What may be a crime in one state may not be contained in the criminal law of another state.

There are some common crimes established by federal, state and local laws. Some common types of crimes that would be found in most all state criminal law would include misdemeanor offenses, like jaywalking or simple theft. Criminal law could also encompass more serious crimes such as murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.

   
Are there ever circumstances that the police can search my vehicle or me without a warrant under existing criminal law?

Are there ever circumstances that the police can search my vehicle or me without a warrant under existing criminal law?

There are times in which the police may execute a search without a warrant and stay within the confines of the law. Some categories under criminal law that such a search could occur might be:

* If the officer feels that his/her safety is being compromised or could be compromised;
* If the police are in a “hot” pursuit;
* When illegal evidence is seen in plain view;
* If the police offer terms his/her questions with regard to temporary questioning;
* If a person consents or gives permission for the search
* After the police have made a lawful arrest.

   
What is the difference between a civil offense and a criminal act?

What is the difference between a civil offense and a criminal act?

A civil offense is anything that would incur a penalty such as a fine and is not technically termed a “crime.”

A crime, on the other hand, is any violation of the law that is punishable by a fine or a jail sentence. There are obviously degrees or classes of crime, which include misdemeanors and felonies.

A crime that might invoke the penalty of a fine could be something such as breaking a noise ordinance or anything else that does not result in the injury of another person or their property.

Misdemeanors, however, under criminal law can include jail sentences and fines. Usually any jail sentence that is imposed with regard to a misdemeanor is one year or less.

Felony convictions can bring at least a year if not more time in prison and fines up to $100,000.

   
What are the steps taken under criminal law?

What are the steps taken under criminal law?

From the time the crime is committed and reported, an investigation usually occurs and depending upon the outcome of the investigation one or more arrests may be made with regard to the offense.

Once an arrest is made, there is an administrative procedure or booking that occurs which includes records information pertaining to the defendant, such as name, the crime being charged and taking the defendant's fingerprints and photograph. The defendant is then taken into a courtroom setting within a specified time allowed by statute and an arraignment occurs. This is where the defendant is formally charged and enters a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.

By this time, the defendant has usually consulted with his/her criminal defense attorney, who also appears at this hearing in front of the judge. It is at this hearing that the amount of bail, if any, is also determined.

The next legal procedure is the preliminary hearing, which is the occasion for the criminal court judge to hear the evidence and decide based upon the presentation by the state or the government, whether there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to be bound over for trial. Should the trial judge agree with the prosecution that there is enough evidence for their case to be presented to a jury, and then a trial is scheduled. This is the step in the process wherein the prosecution and defense attorneys will present their respective cases to the jury and allow the jury to bring a verdict or decision to the matter.

If the defendant is found not guilty, the prosecution may petition the court for a new trial, which may or may not be granted. Should the defendant be found guilty, the defendant, too, may petition the court for a new trial.

When the issue of guilt or innocence has been finally determined, then the trial goes into the sentencing phase, where the judge or jury has criminal law sentencing guidelines to follow. Either side may finally appeal any decision reached by the judge or jury based upon points of law or alleged misconduct.

   
Can the police come into my house by knocking down my door to enter my residence?

Can the police come into my house by knocking down my door to enter my residence?

Under criminal law, the “Knock and Announce” rule generally applies when it comes to the police attempting to gain entry into someone's home. This means that the police must give the occupant a reasonable amount of time to answer the door before the police physically break down the door in order to execute a search.

On the contrary, just because the police officers fail to announce their purpose doesn't automatically mean that they have violated your Constitutional rights. It may become a factor considered later on, as to whether the search was reasonable, however.

Courts have generally overlooked the “knock and announce” rule if the officers believe the suspect may have large, vicious dogs, a security system or are in the process of disposing of drug evidence. These may be extenuating circumstances. There is also, in some states, a “no-knock” warrant that can be issued by a judge. The officers must state in the warrant the reason for not announcing within the warrant before it is executed.

   
How real is the law portrayed on television shows?

How real is the law portrayed on television shows?

While the world of television is usually enlightening and fascinating, it is not often accurate or “real” in the sense of real life. Shows like “Law and Order Criminal Intent” make some of us want to sign up for the nearest law school classes so that we too, can solve cases and win verdicts in courts of law, all within an hour's time.

However, that is not reality. Most people realize that television has the ability to captivate its audience and is required to reach an outcome or conclusion, all within the allotted and prescribed amount of air time given by the networks.

In real life, cases are not tried in one hour usually, much less concluded from investigation, arrest, trial, verdict and sentencing within one hour. Remember that television shows are generally meant for entertainment, not a portrayal of dispensing real life criminal law.

   

Be careful what you keep in your car.

The police do not necessarily need a warrant to search your car if they pull you over. If the police determine they have probable cause, then they have the right to search your car without your consent and without a warrant.

Probable cause means that the police must believe there is some kind of suspicious activity. In other words, they can't just search your car because you were speeding.

   
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