1. Felonies

    2. Misdemeanors / Violations / Traffic Infractions


Criminal law: an overview

Criminal law involves prosecution by only the government of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime. In a criminal case, the state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit. Persons convicted of a crime may be incarcerated, fined, or both. Furthermore, the prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge, under a threshold standard called, "beyond a reasonable doubt" of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged.

Civil cases, on the other hand, involve individuals and organizations seeking to resolve legal disputes. In a civil case, the victim brings the suit and a person(s) found liable in a civil case may only have to give up property or pay money, but are not incarcerated. In civil cases, the plaintiff needs to show a defendant is liable only by a "preponderance of the evidence," or more than 50%. The civil case synopsis puts a criminal matter in perspective to show how serious the matter can be.

A "crime" is any act or omission (of an act) in violation of a public law forbidding it. Though there are some common law crimes, most crimes in the United States are established by local, state, and federal governments. Criminal laws vary significantly from state to state. Crimes include both felonies, like aggravated assault, burglary, murder or rape and misdemeanors, like petty theft or jaywalking. Felonies are usually crimes punishable by imprisonment of a year or more, while misdemeanors are crimes punishable by less than a year.

All statutes describing criminal behavior can be broken down into their various elements. Most crimes (with the exception of strict-liability crimes) consist of two elements: an act, or “actus reus” and a mental state, or “mens rea.” Prosecutors have to prove each and every element of the crime to gain a conviction.