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Criminal Law


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Criminal law involves prosecution by the government of a person for an act legally classified as a crime. People convicted of a crime may be incarcerated and/or fined.

Criminal cases differ fundamentally from civil lawsuits. Criminal prosecution intends to punish undesirable actions, while civil lawsuits generally intend to enforce private rights or obligations or redress private wrongs. In a criminal case, the state brings charges against the accused through a prosecutor, while civil cases generally are between private parties or between a private party and a government entity.

Crimes include both felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies usually are punishable by imprisonment of a year or more, while misdemeanors are punishable by less than a year. However, no act is a crime if it has not been previously established as such either by statute or common law.

GetLegal’s Criminal Law Center offers legal information on DWIs, criminal defenses and much more.


DWIs and DUIs are heavily litigated crimes. Each state differs in its laws governing driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence.

Traffic Tickets

Traffic violations differ by state but include offenses such as speeding violations and hit-and-runs.

The Criminal Justice System

There are many steps in the criminal justice system between getting arrested and being sentenced to prison or released.

Fundamental Rights of the Accused

The Bill of Rights guarantees certain rights to criminal defendants. The right to a trial by jury and the right to be protected against unlawful searches and seizures are two well-known examples.

Defenses to Crimes

It’s important for an accused person to mount all available defenses. Examples of such defenses are insanity, self-defense and duress.


Expungement (known in some states as expunction) erases the public record of an arrest or conviction.


Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies but still may carry hefty fines or prison sentences. States vary in the crimes they classify as misdemeanors.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice is the area of law that determines the appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit crimes and other offenses.


Criminal forfeiture — the government seizure of property connected to illegal activity — operates as punishment for a crime.

White-Collar Crimes

These are non-violent crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement and bribery, committed by corporations or individuals in the course of business activities.

Crime Classifications and Definitions

Learn how the FBI classifies and defines various personal and property crimes.

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