Being charged with a criminal offense is a serious matter and you should find the lawyer that you think will best represent you. After having been an Assistant District Attorney in Dallas County for four years, Thomas has maintained an active criminal defense practice. If you are looking for a lawyer that will fairly evaluate the facts of your case and give you his honest opinion based on those facts, then Thomas is the lawyer for you. Your initial consultation is free.
The Outcome: How Might a Criminal Case End?
The outcome of any criminal case depends upon the crime charged, the strength of the evidence, the legal validity of law enforcement and courtroom procedure, and the goals and strategy of the government and defense. When all is said and done, there may be no legal consequence for a person charged with a crime, because the charges are dismissed, or a full-fledged jury trial might result in a criminal conviction.
Some potential outcomes of a criminal case are:
A criminal investigation ends with no arrest.
An arrest occurs, but the case is dismissed because the police illegally seized the only evidence of crime.
A person is arrested and charged with a crime, then enters into a plea bargain with the government, agreeing to plead "guilty" in exchange for some form of leniency, such as a lighter sentence.
A person is brought to trial and found "not guilty," or acquitted, by a jury.
A person is convicted by a jury and sentenced to a long prison term.
What is a felony?
Felonies are deemed the most serious class of offense throughout the United States. Many jurisdictions separate felonies into their own distinct classes so that a repeat offender convicted of committing a felony in a heinous fashion receives a more severe punishment than a first-time offender convicted of committing a felony in a comparatively less hateful, cruel, or injurious fashion. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, felonies are generally punishable by a fine, imprisonment for more than a year, or both. At common law felonies were crimes that typically involved moral turpitude, or offenses that violated the moral standards of the community. Today many crimes classified as felonies are still considered offensive to the moral standards in most American communities. They include terrorism, treason, arson, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and kidnapping, among others.
In many state penal codes a felony is defined not only by the length of incarceration but also by the place of incarceration. For example, crimes that are punishable by incarceration in a state prison are deemed felonies in a number of states, while crimes that are punishable only by incarceration in a local jail are deemed misdemeanors. For crimes that may be punishable by incarceration in either a local jail or a state prison, the crime will normally be classified according to where the defendant actually serves the sentence.
What is a misdemeanor?
A misdemeanor, a criminal offense that is less serious than a felony and more serious than an infraction, is generally punishable by a fine or incarceration in a local jail, or both. Many jurisdictions separate misdemeanors into three classes: high or gross misdemeanors, ordinary misdemeanors, and petty misdemeanors. Petty misdemeanors usually contemplate a jail sentence of less than six months and a fine of $500 or less. The punishment prescribed for gross misdemeanors is greater than that prescribed for ordinary misdemeanors and less than that prescribed for felonies. Some states even define a gross misdemeanor as "any crime that is not a felony or a misdemeanor" (see MN ST § 609.02). Legislatures sometimes use such broad definitions to provide prosecutors and judges with flexibility in charging and sentencing for criminal conduct that calls for a punishment combining a fine normally assessed for a misdemeanor and an incarceration period normally given for a felony.
What is an infraction?
An infraction, sometimes called a petty offense, is the violation of an administrative regulation, an ordinance, a municipal code, and, in some jurisdictions, a state or local traffic rule. In many states an infraction is not considered a criminal offense and thus not punishable by incarceration. Instead, such jurisdictions treat infractions as civil offenses. Even in jurisdictions that treat infractions as criminal offenses, incarceration is not usually contemplated as punishment, and when it is, confinement is limited to serving time in a local jail. Like misdemeanors, infractions are often defined in very broad language. For example, one state provides that any offense that is defined "without either designation as a felony or a misdemeanor or specification of the class or penalty is a petty offense" (see AZ ST § 13-602).
What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
Most states break their crimes into two major groups: felonies and misdemeanors. Whether a crime falls into one category or the other depends on the potential punishment. If a law provides for imprisonment for longer than a year, it is usually considered a felony. If the potential punishment is for a year or less, then the crime is considered a misdemeanor.
In some states, certain crimes are described on the books as "wobblers," which means that the prosecutor may charge the crime as either a misdemeanor (carrying less than a year's jail time as punishment) or a felony (carrying a year or more).
Copyright 2006 Nolo
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