In criminal law cases, a lawsuit is brought by the state against a person who has broken a criminal law. The defendant is the person committing a crime. At the U.S. District Court level, the government is represented by the United States Attorney or an Assistant United States Attorney, also called a district attorney or prosecuting attorney. An attorney, appointed to conduct criminal prosecutions on behalf of the state, represents sates interests against 1 or more defendants. Only the state is eligible to bring criminal charges against you. No one else can do it.
There are many types of criminal law cases, which are separated into three main categories:
- Infractions– minor violations assuming a punishment of paying a fine;
- Misdemeanors– serious crimes which can be punished by up to 1 year in jail and/or fines up to &1,000. Common examples of misdemeanors violations include prostitution, petty theft, drunk driving and vandalism.
- Felonies– the most serious kinds of crime. Depending on the degree of a crime, you can go to state prison for more than a year, and in the most serious cases, get the death penalty. Some examples of felony crimes include murder, possession of dangerous drugs for sale, rape and robbery.
Each type of a criminal law case is handled differently because of different circumstances. It depends on a degree of how badly and directly a crime affected a person. Each will be punishable by a different degree of the law.
The defendant can retain or hire his/her own attorney to defend his/her rights. In case of being financially unable to hire an attorney, they can have a defense attorney appointed for them. In most cases, the appointed attorney will be from the Federal Public Defenders Office. Defendants are also allowed to represent themselves at the court. This is called pro se, which is a Latin word for “on one’s own behalf”. Defendants have other constitutional rights as well like to remain silent, to be protected from unreasonable searches, etc.
In criminal cases, the defendants are presumed innocent. The attorney appointed to represent the state is to prove a defendant’s guilt. To convict a defendant, a jury must be unanimous, so all 12 jurors must agree on the verdict.