Criminal Defense Attorney Dallas
A Dallas Criminal Defense Attorney Can Explain The Basics Of Crime & Punishment
Criminal law is a system of legal conventions that lay out what actions are considered crimes and how the authorities punish people that commit these crimes. A criminal defense attorney can help define the processes in criminal law.
The instrument that contains the specifics of crime and punishment is called the penal code. There are penal codes on the federal, state, and local levels that have all the details on what crimes are punished and their corresponding punishments.
What Is A Crime?
A crime is an act of doing something specifically forbidden by law or an omission of an act that is specifically commanded by law. Specific crimes and their classification vary by jurisdiction but generally, they are categorized as felonies or misdemeanors.
- Felonies are considered serious crimes that include offenses like murder, rape, kidnapping, or arson. Usually, they’re punishable by at least one year of imprisonment plus fines.
- Misdemeanors are less serious and include offenses like petty theft, simple assault, trespassing, and vandalism, among others. Most misdemeanors are punishable by less than one year of jail time and/or fines.
How Is Crime Determined?
In order for the government to act on crime and enforce punishment, there has to be a law specifying that the particular act or omission is in fact, a crime. With that in place, there are usually at least three elements of a crime, with certain exceptions.
Elements Of A Crime
For the government to successfully convict the accused of a crime, they must be able to prove all three elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence must be presented in court in order to do this.
The Act or Actus Reus
Actus reus is the act, executed physically, that was committed, making the person guilty of a crime. Generally, it is defined as an “unlawful bodily movement.”
For example, under the Texas Penal Code, the crime of kidnapping is defined as:
“Sec. 20.03. KIDNAPPING. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly abducts another person.”
This particular provision defines the physical act with the word “abducts” to constitute the offense of kidnapping.
The manner of the abduction leads to the second element of a crime.
A lack of action or omission of action can also be criminal if such an act is commanded by law. This failure to act is considered criminal in three situations.
- There is a law that imposes a legal duty to do something. For example, if you witness an instance of child abuse, you are required by law to report it. Failure to do so will constitute a crime.
- There is a contract that binds you to a legal duty to act. One example of this is when a doctor hired by the patient fails to help said patient.
- There is a special relationship created between the parties and such a relationship results in a legal duty to act. One very common example of such duty is a parent’s obligation to their child. The parent has the duty to provide for the child for as long as the child is dependent on the parent (i.e. a minor).
Mental State or Mens Rea
The term mens rea is Latin for “guilty mind” and in criminal law, it refers to the criminal intent behind the actus reus . This criminal act must be done by the accused voluntarily and with control. Certain acts where the accused is considered to be not in control are involuntary reflexes, convulsions, and actions resulting from hypnotic suggestion.
For example, a reflex action is an involuntary movement caused by sudden stimulus. If your hand got pricked with a nail and you jerked your arm away, accidentally hitting a passerby in the face. In this case, the physical action that caused harm to someone else was not voluntary and there is no criminal intent.
However, an involuntary action that came after a voluntary action where the former eventually causes harm to someone, may be grounds for liability. For example, you drank several bottles of beer, drove home, and rear-ended another vehicle on the way. You can be liable for drinking and driving.
Concurrence Of The Two Elements
The third element for an act or omission to be considered a crime is the concurrence of the actus reus and the mens rea. This simply means that both elements must be present and proven. For example, in a case of theft, it is not enough that the accused took something that did not belong to them. The person must have had the intention of depriving the owner of possession of the property in question.
Similarly, there can be no crime if there is only intent but no action involved. So a person that thinks about stealing something, or even talks about stealing something, cannot be liable for theft. There must be the act of actually taking the property from the owner’s possession.
Criminal law, and all other fields of law, all fall under the constraints of the Constitution. Statutes cannot be enacted if they violate the Constitution. The following are the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to anyone accused of a crime:
Television and film have popularized the Miranda Rights. Any scene where a person is arrested by law enforcement usually includes the arresting officer informing the accused of their rights. The Miranda Rights resulted from the case of Miranda v. Arizona in 1966.
The wording varies but generally, an arresting officer, after a suspect is arrested, informs the latter of his rights with something like: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
These rights do not attach until after the suspect has been arrested. Prior to an arrest, a law enforcement officer can ask the suspect questions and the answers can be admissible as evidence if provided voluntarily. The officer must inform the person that they are free to answer or not and that they are free to leave anytime.
Right To An Attorney
Under the law, criminal defendants have the right to legal counsel. They can hire their own but if they cannot afford to hire one, the court will appoint an attorney for them. Unfortunately, there are many instances where suspects are pressured into entering a plea without having spoken to an attorney.
If you have been accused of a crime, always remember that you have the right to counsel even for the “smallest” criminal charges. A misdemeanor conviction can still taint your record no matter how minor the offense is.
Right To Speedy Trial
A speedy trial doesn’t just benefit the accused, it also benefits the judicial system as a whole. The longer a case lasts, the more taxpayer money is spent prosecuting the case. For the accused, a speedy trial ensures that all the facts of the case are considered while the circumstances are still fresh. It also helps to get the experience done and over with, whatever the outcome may be.
Under the Constitution, no person may “be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This simply means a person cannot be tried for the same offense twice. The double jeopardy protection only applies to criminal cases.
The double protection clause protects defendants against further prosecution for the same allegations after being acquitted, after being convicted, or for additional punishment.
Double jeopardy does not attach upon the mere filing of a second case for the same offense. It generally attaches when the jury is sworn in. If it is a trial before a judge, it attaches when the first witness is sworn in.
Right To Confront Witnesses
Called the “Confrontation Clause,” this section of the Constitution provides that in criminal cases, the accused has the right to confront the witnesses against him. This is to give the accused the opportunity to test the reliability and truthfulness of the witnesses before the jury.
In its decision in Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237 (1895), the Supreme Court held that the Confrontation Clause has three fundamental purposes:
- To guarantee that the witness will actually testify under oath and appreciate the seriousness of trial proceedings.
- To give the defendant the chance to cross-examine the witnesses against him.
- To give the jury the chance to evaluate the witnesses’ credibility by seeing their behavior in court.
Punishment Of Crimes
The penalties for crimes in Texas are classified by range, depending on the type of offense. Generally speaking, the offenses are classified as follows:
Felonies & Corresponding Punishments
Punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
First Degree Felony
Life imprisonment or imprisonment for 5 to 99 years and fines of no more than $10,000.
Second Degree Felony
Imprisonment for 2 to 20 years and fines of no more than $10,000.
Third Degree Felony
Imprisonment of 2 to 10 years and fines of no more than $10,000.
State Jail Felony
180 days to 2 years imprisonment and fines of no more than $10,000.
Misdemeanors & Corresponding Punishments
Class A Misdemeanor
Jail time of no more than one year, fines of no more than $4,000, or both.
Class B Misdemeanor
Jail time of not longer than 180 days, fines not exceeding $2,000, or both a jail sentence and fines.
Class C Misdemeanor
Fine not to exceed $500 and no jail time.
These punishments are not set in stone and may be enhanced depending on the circumstances of the individual cases.
Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you find yourself at odds with criminal law in Texas, find a reliable and experienced criminal defense lawyer. The Medlin Law Firm is an award-winning law firm in Dallas, Texas that specializes in criminal defense. Their experience in the field spans decades and you would want their competent lawyers to be on your side when facing criminal charges in Dallas, Texas.