Criminal law is best understood as it differs from civil law. Where civil law involves individuals disagreeing over their rights, and seeking restitution or compensation, a criminal lawyer deals with people who have (or may have) committed crimes.
Understanding What Criminal Law Attorneys Do
Where the civil law attorney is often trying to get a financial settlement for his or her client, the criminal law attorney is seeking punishment, or the avoidance of punishment. The punishments in criminal cases vary widely, from small fines to lengthy prison sentences.
Every state has its own criminal code, and those states’ codes are often drastically different from one another. The U.S. Congress has codified certain crimes, in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (Crimes and Criminal Procedure), to be federal crimes.
No state may prosecute a person for an action that was not declared criminal at the time it was committed. As an assertion of this concept, the U.S. Constitution forbids any law that is “ex post facto,” or applicable retroactively.
If the state had declared the action in question criminal, however, the individual who carried out that action can be apprehended and taken to criminal court. Similarly, an omission in violation of a law ordering it – for example, not paying your taxes – can make an individual subject to criminal law proceedings.
Criminal Law Issues
Generally, there are four types of crimes a criminal lawyer deals with:
- Misdemeanors (usually punished with less than a year of prison time)
- Strict liability offenses (an action committed regardless of intent or mental state, such as statutory rape or possession crimes)
- Felonies (usually punished with more than a year of prison time)
Since the punishments are potentially so harsh and lengthy for felonies, it is crucial that the court follows strict procedures. This helps protect the rights of the defendant. By having strict rules and adhering to them, the court can help ensure fair treatment for anyone being tried for such a serious offense.
Low-level felonies are generally related to property or drugs. Possession of small amounts of controlled substances, or sales of those substances in small amounts, is felonious, but considered low-level. Class H or Class I felonies include such property crimes as embezzlement, obtaining property by false pretenses, or larceny. A defendant may receive probation for such an offense. Sentences that are probationary may include house arrest, community service, counseling for substance abuse, or weekends in jail (but weekdays working and staying at home). Low-level felonies are often resolved with the use of plea deals to reduce charges. The maximum penalty for a Class I felony — the least serious type of felony — is two years in jail.
Mid-level felonies can lead to lengthy prison sentences, depending on the case and circumstances. Class E, Class F, and Class G felonies may be related to sexual assault, violent assault, involuntary manslaughter, or habitual DUI or driving while impaired. Drug trafficking crimes can also fall into this mid-level category. Probationary sentences are possible, but are generally much more intensive than those awarded for Class H or Class I felony sentences.
High-level felonies are often violent crimes. Arson, voluntary manslaughter, murder, armed robbery, and forcible rape are most commonly categorized as Class A, Class B1, Class B2, Class C, or Class D felonies. Some drug trafficking cases can fall into the high-level classifications, as can statutory rape or burglary. High-level felonies carry the maximum sentences, and can lead to decades in prison, life sentences, or capital punishment.
If you are in Cincinnati and are in need of a criminal law attorney, please call Donnellon, Donnellon, and Miller at 513-891-7087 for a consultation.