We all make mistakes. When we do, it’s important not to make things worse through ignorance of the law or of our rights. If you find yourself facing criminal investigation or prosecution because of choices you’ve made, the more information you have about the law, the process, and your rights, the less likely you will say or do something that compromises your defense.
GetLegal.com’s Criminal Law Center contains information on a wide range of topics affecting potential criminal defendants, from an overview of the criminal justice system to some of the specific defenses you can raise to a criminal charge. You’ll find summaries of your rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as information on how you can seal or expunge a criminal record.
The criminal charge most frequently prosecuted is drunk driving, known alternatively as driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI).
Traffic offenses are generally governed by state or municipal laws. Though frequently considered minor infractions, traffic tickets can lead to significant expense and even the loss of driving privileges.
There are three components to the criminal justice system—arrest or detention, adjudication and punishment.
The U.S. Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, sets forth specific rights for anyone under investigation for, detained or charged with a crime. The federal courts have further defined the scope of these rights.
In a criminal case, even though you admit to committing the crime, you may raise any of a number of defenses to challenge or deny legal responsibility, including insanity, incapacity, self-defense and duress.
In certain circumstances, you can seek to expunge, or permanently seal, the public record of a prior arrest or conviction.
Certain crimes, considered by society to be serious in nature, are identified as felonies, and can carry substantial penalties, including substantial fines and prison time.
A less serious offense than a felony, a misdemeanor may nonetheless involve incarceration and substantial fines. The terminology and sanctions related to misdemeanors vary from state to state.
In the juvenile justice system, penalties tend to toward rehabilitation, rather than punishment. In most instances, juveniles will be treated less harshly, even if their crime is one for which an adult would be penalized. Some juvenile offenses, though, are merely status offenses, which would not be crimes if committed by adults.
Under some state and federal statutes, if law enforcement officials believe you have been involved in criminal activity (most commonly drug violations), you may face the loss or forfeiture of any property perceived to be obtained with the proceeds from illegal activity, even though you may not be charged with or convicted of a crime.
Certain non-violent crimes, committed by individuals with access to records, property or financial accounts, have become known as white collar crimes. These illegal acts include fraud, embezzlement, corruption, bribery and money laundering, among others.
Learn how the FBI classifies and defines various personal and property crimes.