Overview: Criminal Law

Today, we here at SQ Attorneys would like to provide an overview of what criminal law is? Criminal law refers to federal and state laws that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by imprisonment and fines. The American legal system is largely comprised of two different types of cases: civil and criminal. Civil cases are disputes between people regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe each other. Criminal cases, meanwhile, are charges pursued by prosecutors for violations of criminal statutes.

In the United States, British common law ruled during colonial times. Common law is a process that establishes and updates rules that govern some nations. Once America became an independent nation, it adopted the U.S. Constitution as “the supreme law of the land.” The U.S. continues to employ a common law system, which works in combination with state and federal statutes. As far as criminal laws are concerned, each state has its own penal code which defines what is or is not a crime, the severity of any offense and its punishment.

Criminal cases are generally categorized as felonies or misdemeanors based on their nature and the maximum imposable punishment. Each state is free to draft new criminal laws, so long as they are deemed constitutional. Thus, what is a crime in one state may not necessarily be a crime in a neighboring state.

A felony involves serious misconduct that is punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year. Most state criminal laws subdivide felonies into different classes with varying degrees of punishment. Crimes that do not amount to felonies are typically called misdemeanors. A misdemeanor is misconduct for which the law prescribes punishment of no more than one year in prison. Lesser offenses, such as traffic and parking tickets, are often called infractions.

Many people think that police officers who investigate crimes also charge offenders. That is a common misconception. Police gather evidence and sometimes also testify in court. But prosecutors – including district attorneys, United States Attorneys and others – ultimately decide whether a suspect is prosecuted or not.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

What is an insanity defense is, and how do courts determine whether a defendant falls within the parameters of being legally insane?

A defendant charged with a crime, who is found to have been legally insane when he or she committed a crime may be found not guilty by reason of insanity. In some cases, the defendant may be found guilty but sentenced to a less severe punishment due to a mental impairment. In states such as Washington, that allow the insanity defense, defendants must prove to the court that they did not understand what they were doing; failed to know right from wrong; acted on an uncontrollable impulse or some variety of these factors.

Insanity defenses to a criminal charge were first recognized in 1581, in an English legal treatise, which stated that, if a ‘mad man’, or a lunatic at the time of his lunacy kills someone, they cannot be held accountable. English courts came up with the wild beast test in the 18th Century, in which defendants could not be convicted if they could not understand the crime, no better than a wild beast, a brute or an infant.

Current laws allowing for the insanity defense follow a similar logic, although terms such as “lunatic” or “wild beast” are no longer used. In the mid 19th Century, the M’Naughten Rule was introduced and codified in to the British law, and is now used in the majority of the U.S. states, including Washington.

The M’Naughten rule simply states that a defendant did not understand what he or she did, or failed to distinguish right from wrong because of a “disease of mind.” This can be established by a mental competency evaluation, or be argued at trial by the defendant, in hopes of convincing a jury that an insanity defense would apply.

Another test commonly used by many states is the Model Penal Code test for legal insanity, which states that due to a diagnosed mental defect, the defendant either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Juvenile Law Procedure

The juvenile court system is different from the adult system in many ways. After committing an offense, juveniles are detained rather than arrested. Next, a petition is drawn up which outlines the jurisdiction authority of the juvenile court over the offense and detained individuals, gives notice for the reason for the court appearance, serves as notice to the minor’s family, and also is the official charging document.

Once in court, the juvenile case is adjudicated, and a disposition is handed down. Records from juvenile courts are sealed documents, unlike adult records which are accessible by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. Like diversion, this measure is designed to protect the juvenile so that one mistake does not follow the juvenile for life. Juvenile records may also be expunged upon the juvenile’s eighteenth birthday provided the juvenile has met certain conditions, such as good behavior. Juvenile court procedure is also far less formal than adult court procedure.

The court’s ability to interfere in both criminal and other matters relating to juveniles is the product of a very old legal concept called parens patriae, a concept that regards the government as the legal protector of citizens unable to protect themselves. Even today, the disposition of a juvenile case is based on the least detrimental alternative, so the legacy of parens patriae is still evident. However, one major controversy in juvenile dispositions is the use of indeterminate sentencing, which allows a judge to set a maximum sentence.

In such cases, juveniles are monitored during their sentences and are released only when the judge is satisfied that they have been rehabilitated or when the maximum time has been served. Critics argue that this arrangement allows the judge too much discretion and is, therefore, not the least detrimental punishment.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.