Unlike civil law, which involves private law suits between two or private entities;Criminal Law involves prosecution by the state or federal government of a person or business for an act that has been classified as a crime. Any act or omission of an act in violation of a public law forbidding or commanding it is considered a “crime.” With the exception of strict liability crimes, most crimes consist of three elements: an act (actus reus), a mental state (mens rea) and the intent to do social harm. Crimes are classified as “misdemeanors” (less serious offenses that are normally punishable by a fine like some traffic violations, petty theft, or possession of a small amount of marijuana) and “felonies” (more serious offenses that warrant imprisonment of one or more years, such as rape, grand theft, assault and battery, assault with a deadly weapon, or homicide/murder).
In Criminal Defense Law, the suit is initiated by the state or federal government through a prosecutor rather than being initiated by the victim, as it is in civil law. Plaintiffs in a civil law suit only need to show by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant is 51% or more liable (responsible) for the damages. But, the prosecutor in a criminal defense law case has to prove to the judge or jury “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.
If you’re arrested…
You may be entitled to a court appointed attorney at public expense if you qualify as an indigent person. An indigent person is one who cannot hire an attorney without causing substantial hardship to himself/herself or dependent family. If you have been charged with a crime, you may complete an Affidavit of Indigence and Request for Court Appointed Counsel at your first court appearance. If you qualify, an attorney will be appointed for you. If you are convicted of a crime, the court may require you to repay some or all of the cost of your defense if it determines you are able.
Should I hire a lawyer?
Due to the very serious nature of criminal defense law and because few people qualify for a court appointed attorney at public expense, it’s probably in your best interest to hire a criminal defense lawyer.
statelawyers.com, Practice Definitions – Criminal Defense Law, http://www.statelawyers.com/Practice/Practice_Detail.cfm/PracticeTypeID:28 (last visited December 28, 2012).