Crimes and criminal procedure are governed chiefly by state law, although the federal government has adopted its own criminal code and procedure to deal with activities that extend beyond state boundaries or affect federal government operations. Crimes refer to the specific acts that have violated the law while criminal procedure is the process that must be followed by the police and the courts. Regardless of jurisdiction, criminal procedure must respect the defendant’s right to a speedy trial and due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

If you have been accused of a criminal offense or if you have been the victim of a crime, read the material listed below. If you are looking for information about driving violations, read the material listed below but if you are looking for information about other regulations specific to operators of motor vehicles, see your DMV.

Criminal Procedure

A police officer can stop you, ask you questions, and send you on your way, but the officer may only do so in certain circumstances and by following certain procedures so as not to infringe on your constitutional rights. Criminal procedure addresses the process of being arrested, searched, arraigned, indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced to prison or death. You have specific and guaranteed rights at every stage of the criminal proceedings. This includes even the simple event of being stopped by an officer and asked your name. You have a right not to answer any questions; you have a right to be represented by an attorney at almost all times; you have the right to appeal your conviction. You even have the right to ask a court to release you from prison or to review the conditions of your imprisonment.

Criminal Acts

Crimes range in severity from misdemeanors to felonies. Felonies are more serious crimes and the federal government and most states define felonies as crimes punishable by death or imprisonment of more than a year. A list of felonies includes murder, rape and robbery. Misdemeanors are crimes punishable by imprisonment of less than a year or fines. This includes simple assault, battery, embezzlement and forgery.

Driving Violations

Many punishable offenses are committed on the road, from a failure to signal a turn to driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. If you have accumulated too many traffic tickets for moving violations, you might lose your driver’s license or you can have your license suspended for a length of time depending on the severity of your infractions. Any additional moving violations may result in a one-year suspension of the privilege to drive. License suspensions can also occur because of failure to have liability insurance, driving with blood alcohol levels in excess of the legal limits, refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, or failing to pay outstanding traffic charges.

Victims’ Rights

Crime victims frequently suffer from more than just the original act of violence. Often they are also left with expenses for medical procedures, physical rehabilitation, counseling, and lost wages. The criminal justice process can provide crime victims with a sense of justice, sometimes providing victims compensation through restitution orders. Although a victim cannot order the district attorney to prosecute or not prosecute, the victim of an offense should be consulted by the district attorney before the prosecutor decides either to dismiss the case or allow the defendant to plead guilty or to take the case to trial.

Victims may also take advantage of the civil justice system to sue for damages resulting from the crime.

See also…

Criminal Law, Arrests, Traffic Tickets