The U.S. justice system is comprised of two distinct branches, criminal law and civil law.
The behavior of U.S. citizens is governed by federal laws contained in the federal penal code and by state laws contained in state criminal codes. When a crime is committed by a person, she or he has violated one of the laws which will result in criminal charges being filed. In certain cases, one act can violate both state and federal law. In those cases, it is at the discretion of the U.S. district attorney whether a defendant will be prosecuted in state court or in federal court.
Crimes are usually categorized as either misdemeanors or felonies based on their nature as well as the maximum punishment that may be imposed. Felonies, which are sometimes referred to as “high crimes,” involve serious misconduct. It is punishable by imprisonment of more than one year (although at the judge’s discretion the punishment may be less than a year) or by death. Felonies are subdivided by a majority of state criminal laws into classes with different degrees of punishment. Some examples of felonies are white-collar crime, arson, racketeering, robbery, fraud, rape, manslaughter, and murder.
Misdemeanors are lesser crimes than felonies. Misdemeanors involve misconduct that is punishable by a fine and/or up to a year in prison. Some examples of misdemeanors are public intoxication, trespass, simple assault and battery, petty theft, and traffic violations.
A criminal attorney, also referred to as a criminal defense attorney, works to defend entities and individuals who have been accused of a crime or who are under investigation. Under the US Constitution, defendants are considered to be innocent until they are proven guilty. The case is investigated by a criminal attorney and helps to identify how to introduce doubt into the question of whether or not a defendant is guilty. Based on the evidence and fact, the attorney will devise a strategy, identify defenses, and build a strong case to mitigate the client’s sentence or prove his innocence.
New laws are constantly being enacted. U.S. lawmakers in recent years have greatly expanded the reach and authority of the justice system. Over the past decade, there have been hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been charged under criminal laws and convicted. in particular, federal laws are expanding. A recent article states:
The ballooning of federal criminal statutes has made it increasingly easier for Americans to wind up on the wrong side of the law. Compared to the past, many of these new federal laws have set lower bars for conviction. Prosecutors are not necessarily required to show that a defendant actually had criminal intent. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were dozens of criminal statutes. Today, the federal statutes contain an estimated 4,500 crimes. In addition, there are thousands of regulations carrying criminal penalties.