The Basics of Criminal Law: Understanding Your Legal Rights and Options

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is the body of laws that define crimes and punishments. In order to understand criminal law, you need to know what it means for something to be a crime, how police officers and prosecutors work together and why they do so, how juries decide guilt or innocence of defendants and what happens if you’re found guilty.

The criminal justice system includes all the people who are involved in making sure that criminals are brought to justice: police officers; district attorneys (DAs); public defenders; judges; parole officers; probation officers; correctional facilities such as jails or prisons; etcetera. Press Tab to write more…

Rights of Defendants

If you’re charged with a crime, the police will most likely read you your rights. These are called Miranda rights and they include:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to a speedy trial

Criminal Law Procedures

The criminal justice system is a complex web of procedures and rules that govern the way in which crimes are investigated, prosecuted and tried. The following is an overview of some of the most common procedures involved in prosecuting a crime:

  • Investigation: Police officers must gather evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that someone has committed a crime. If so, they will arrest him or her; if not, they will release him or her without charge (known as “dropping” charges).
  • Grand jury proceedings: Prosecutors may seek an indictment from grand juries when there is not enough evidence for criminal charges but still want to keep tabs on possible suspects or witnesses who might later become important in court cases against others accused of committing similar offenses.
  • Pre-trial hearings: These hearings allow judges to rule on motions filed by defense attorneys before trial begins–for example, motions asking judges not only dismiss charges outright but also suppress certain pieces evidence gathered during investigations against their clients

Trial Process

The trial process begins with jury selection. The jury is comprised of six to twelve people who will decide whether or not the defendant is guilty of a crime and what punishment he or she should receive if found guilty. If you’re accused of a felony, there must be at least 12 jurors; if you’re charged with a misdemeanor, there must be at least six jurors.

The next step in the trial process is opening statements by both sides: prosecutors outline why they believe their side should win; defense attorneys explain why their client should not be convicted. Following this opening statement, evidence will be presented by each side in order for jurors to make an informed decision about guilt or innocence.


Sentencing is the process of determining how long a person will spend in prison and what their punishment will be. The type of crime committed determines how much time you’re likely to spend behind bars, but there are also other factors that can influence your sentence.

The judge has a lot of discretion when it comes to sentencing, so even if you plead guilty or are convicted at trial, there’s no guarantee that your punishment will be light or severe. However, certain factors may affect how much time is served:

  • Your criminal record (if any)
  • Whether or not this was an isolated incident
  • Whether anyone was hurt during the crime

Types of Punishment

There are several types of punishment that can be imposed for a criminal offense. The most severe is incarceration, which involves serving time in prison or jail. Other forms of punishment include probation, fines and restitution.

Incarceration: Incarceration refers to the confinement of an offender in prison or jail as part of their sentence. This type of punishment may be ordered by a judge when they find an individual guilty at trial; it’s also possible for prosecutors to agree with defendants on plea deals that include time served behind bars (known as “time served”).

Inmates are typically released once they’ve served their entire sentence–which may include additional time spent on parole after completing their prison term–but there are exceptions depending on what kind of crime was committed and whether there were any special circumstances surrounding its commission (such as mental illness).

Restitution: Restitution orders require convicted criminals who’ve caused harm through theft or other acts against property owners pay back those individuals monetarily based on how much money was lost due directly because those actions took place; this could mean paying off medical bills from injuries sustained during an assault where someone broke into someone else’s house uninvited just so he could steal some electronics equipment worth thousands upon thousands dollars total value but only got away with taking one laptop computer worth $500 because police arrived before he could get out safely without getting caught up inside too long enought until police arrived at scene later than expected due poor planning beforehand which resulted in unexpected delay between arrival times leading up until final moments when everything finally fell into place perfectly without any problems whatsoever.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that criminal law is constantly evolving. New laws are being passed, court cases are being decided and precedents are being set. It’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest changes in criminal law if you are a lawyer, law enforcement officer or just an interested citizen.

One way to stay informed is by reading legal publications such as law reviews and bar journals. These publications often contain articles written by legal experts on the latest developments in criminal law. You can also attend legal conferences and seminars to learn from experts in the field.

In conclusion, criminal law is a complex and ever-changing area of the law. It’s important to understand your rights if you’ve been accused of a crime, and to seek legal representation if necessary. By staying informed and up-to-date on the latest developments in criminal law, you can be better prepared to navigate the criminal justice system.

Thomas Elliott

Education: Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, New York. Pace University, White Plains, New York.
Professional Associations and Memberships: American Bar Association, New York State Bar, The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Brooklyn Bar Association, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

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