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.

Wiping Your Record Clean

Expungement is a court-ordered process where the legal record of an arrest or a criminal conviction is sealed, or erased in the eyes of the law. When a conviction is expunged, the process may also be referred to as setting aside a criminal conviction. The availability of expungement, and the procedure for getting an arrest or conviction expunged, will vary according to the state or county in which the arrest or conviction occurred.

An expungement ordinarily means that an arrest or conviction is sealed, or erased from a person’s criminal record for most purposes. After the expungement process is complete, an arrest or a criminal conviction ordinarily does not need to be disclosed by the person who was arrested or convicted. For example, when filling out an application for a job or apartment, an applicant whose arrest or conviction has been expunged does not need to disclose that arrest or conviction.

In most cases, no record of an expunged arrest or conviction will appear if a potential employer, educational institution, or other company conducts a public records inspection or background search of an individual’s criminal record.

An expunged arrest or conviction is not necessarily completely erased, in the literal sense of the word. An expungement will ordinarily be an accessible part of a person’s criminal record, viewable by certain government agencies, including law enforcement and the criminal courts. This limited accessibility is sometimes referred to as a criminal record being “under seal.” In some legal proceedings, such as during sentencing for any crimes committed after an expungement, or in immigration / deportation proceedings, an expunged conviction that is “under seal” may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction.

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.

I’m on Probation

Did you just plead guilty? … And you are not going to jail? Just probation? Has your lawyer advised you on what probation is and what will be required of you?

Probation is the suspension of a jail sentence that allows a person convicted of a crime a chance to remain in the community, instead of going to jail. Active probation requires that you follow certain court-ordered rules and conditions under the supervision of a probation officer. Typical conditions may include performing community service, meeting with your probation officer, refraining from using illegal drugs or excessive alcohol, avoiding certain people and places, and appearing in court during requested times and for many alcohol/drug related crimes, you may be required to submit to random urine analysis tests. But how long will this last?

Typically, the amount of time you are on probation depends on the offense and laws of your state. Typically, probation lasts anywhere from one to five years in Washington state, but can last longer and even up to life depending on the type of conviction, such as drug or sex offenses.

A person who is placed on probation is usually required to report to a probation officer and follow a variety of conditions during the probation period. Specific conditions may include: 1) meeting with your probation officer at set times; 2) appearing at scheduled court appearances; 3) paying probation fees and restitution to the alleged victim; 4) avoiding certain people and places and not traveling out of state without permission from your probation officer; 5) obeying all laws and committing no new law violations and 6) refraining from illegal drug use or alcohol use )if ordered) while also submitting to random drug and alcohol testing. These are just some examples of what is required of one while on probation. There can be many other conditions. Typically, the conditions imposed relate to the type of criminal offense. For example, a judge may require you to submit to periodic drug testing or attend a drug rehabilitation program for a drug-related offense.

So now that you are on probation, you may ask what the consequences are if you happen to violate any of the conditions? Probation violation occurs when you break any of the rules or conditions set forth in the probation order at any time during the probation period. When a potential violation is discovered, your probation officer has the discretion to simply give you a warning, or require you to attend a probation violation hearing. If a judge determines that you violated your probation, you may face additional probation terms, heavy fines, a revoked probation, jail time, or more.

During a revocation hearing, the prosecuting attorney must show that you, more likely than not, violated a term or condition of your probation using a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Generally, you have a right to learn of any new charges against you and to present evidence in court before a neutral judge that may support your case and/or refute the evidence brought against you. You may want to consult with an attorney or other legal professional regarding the rights available to you in your particular state.

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.

Can I Expunge my DUI?

A driving under the influence (DUI) arrest or conviction can have a negative impact on one’s ability to secure a job, get a student loan, rent an apartment or apply for credit, even if it seems completely unrelated or happened several years ago. Criminal record expungement laws vary from state to state. Some states do not allow it at all for convictions for DUI and only allow it for arrests that did not result in a conviction. Other states will allow expungements, but only under certain conditions.

Expungement, also called “sealing a conviction” or “vacating a conviction,” effectively hides a a criminal charge, arrest or conviction in the eyes of the law. An expunged offense may still be used as proof of a prior conviction, but expunged offenses are not typically visible to prospective employers, educational institutions, credit issuers or other entities conducting background checks.

In some legal proceedings, such as during sentencing for any crimes committed after an expungement, or in immigration/deportation proceedings, an expunged conviction that is “under seal” may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction.

The ability to expunge a drunk driving arrest or conviction varies by state and often is limited to first offenses. Some states only allow for the expungement of arrests that do not result in convictions or guilty pleas, while others allow for the expungement of most first convictions that don’t appear to be part of a criminal pattern. In all cases, it is up to the court to decide whether or not they will grant the expungement. In Washington State, a DUI conviction can never be expunged off one’s record.

Depending on the state and/or county, special eligibility rules might exist for expungement of DUI arrests or convictions that occurred while the offender was a juvenile, but this is not the case in Washington State.

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor DUI violation in California, for example, you may file a petition for expungement after successfully completing probation. Even felony DUI convictions can sometimes be expunged in California, but this often involves extra court procedures, such as the reduction of the conviction status to a misdemeanor.

In contrast, Florida and Washington law only allows for the expungement of DUI arrests where the charges were dropped, dismissed by the court, never filed or where the accused was not found guilty.

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.

Violation of Uniformed Controlled Substance Act

One of the most common offenses found in Courts across the United States, are drug offenses. Both the Federal and State drug possession laws make it a crime to willfully possess illegal controlled substances such as marijuana (with exception to certain states), methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, heroin and other controlled substances. These laws also criminalize the possession of chemicals used in drug cultivation and manufacturing, as well as certain accessories related to drug use. Drug possession laws vary according to drug type, amount, and geographic area of the offense. Possession of small quantities may be deemed “simple” possession and may be charged as a misdemeanor depending on the drug, while possession of large amounts may result in a charge of possession with intent to distribute.

Possession of certain illicit drugs violates federal and state laws. While drug possession laws vary widely from state to state, the elements of the offense are generally the same. Prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the drug in question was a controlled substance, and that he or she knowingly had possession of the drug. Such charges may be filed against one or more individuals who were mere accomplices or just simply around the controlled substances in question.

Drug possession laws generally fall into one of two main categories: simple possession for personal use and possession with intent to distribute. The latter category typically carries much stiffer penalties upon a conviction, and are usually serious felony charges. A simple possession charge is not as serious, and one first time offenses, are often times amended down to a misdemeanor. To prove possession with intent to sell, prosecutors may present evidence such as digital scales, baggies, large quantities of the drug, large amounts of cash in small bills or testimony from witnesses.

Drug possession laws also prohibit paraphernalia such as syringes, crack pipes or bongs. The Federal Drug Paraphernalia Statute defines what constitutes drug paraphernalia but usually hinges on a determination of primary use. For example, a newly purchased water pipe may not be considered a marijuana bong unless it has drug residue or is sold explicitly as a marijuana bong. Laws also exist to restrict the possession of certain chemicals or materials commonly used in the cultivation or manufacturing of drugs, such as the laboratory equipment used to make methamphetamine.

While some states have legalized possession of marijuana for medical use, and both Colorado and Washington have legalized its recreational use, it is still considered illegal in all cases under federal 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.

Wiping the Record Clearn

When expungement of an arrest or conviction is an option in a state or county, in most instances a person’s criminal record must meet certain standards in order to qualify for the process. Whether or not a person is eligible for expungement will usually depend on a number of factors, which includes: 1) the amount of time that has passed since the arrest or conviction; 2) The severity and nature of the event for which expungement is sought (i.e. a conviction for a sex offense may lead to a denial of expungement); and 3) The severity and nature of other events in the applicant’s criminal record.

Depending on the state and/or county, special eligibility rules might exist for expungement of arrests or convictions that occurred while the offender was a juvenile, and arrests or convictions for sex offenses.

Where available to persons who have been arrested or convicted, expungement does not happen automatically, and is never guaranteed. A person seeking to have an arrest or criminal conviction expunged from their record must usually fill out an application or petition, and submit the paperwork to the proper criminal court for a judge’s review and decision. In most jurisdictions, a fee must be paid in conjunction with the filing of the petition.

The expungement process can be complicated. For example, some jurisdictions require an applicant to deliver (or “serve”) papers on district attorneys, while others require the applicant to prepare the legal document (or “Order of Expungement”) which will be signed by the judge. In some cases, a court hearing is required, after which a judge will decide whether to grant the expungement.

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.

You are Guaranteed the Assistance of Counsel

So you have been charged with a crime and now you are in need of an attorney? A criminal defendant’s right to an attorney is found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which requires the “assistance of counsel” for the accused in all criminal prosecutions. This means that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney during every aspect of a criminal proceeding from the arraignment and through an appeals process. It also means that if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, in almost all instances the government will appoint one to handle the case, at no cost to the defendant.

The defense attorney’s role is of paramount importance in almost every criminal case. While specific duties of an attorney vary depending on the nature of the charges and the case, key responsibilities of any criminal defense lawyer include advising the defendant of his or her rights and explaining what to expect at different stages of the criminal process; ensuring that the defendant’s constitutional rights are not violated through law enforcement conduct, or in court proceedings and negotiating a plea bargain with the government, on the defendant’s behalf. Lastly, a defense attorney is responsible for investigating facts and the evidence presented as well as cross-examining witnesses, objecting to evidence and questions presented by the prosecution and presenting any legal defenses that may be apparent.

Courts have interpreted the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as guaranteeing the “effective assistance of counsel” to criminal defendants. It doesn’t matter whether the attorney is hired by the defendant or appointed by the government. However, questionable strategic choices made by an attorney and even serious lawyer errors, in some instances do not usually cause a conviction to be thrown out, unless it is clear that the attorney’s incompetence affected the outcome of the case.

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.

Three Strikes and You Are Out!

The “three strikes” law has been implemented in many States, where in which a defendant with three violent felony convictions may be sentenced to life in imprisonment. In addition to “three strikes” laws, other state and all federal criminal statutes include mandatory sentences that require judges to impose identical sentences on all persons convicted of the same offense. Mandatory sentences are a direct result of state legislatures’ or Congress’ response to the public perception of judicial leniency or inconsistency in sentencing practices. Driving Under the Influence charges carry mandatory minimum sentences if convicted, depending on how many prior convictions a defendant has.

However, most crimes do not carry mandatory sentences. If sentencing is not mandatory, judges are given discretion and may fit the punishment to the offender based on the particular circumstances. Competing theories about criminal justice help to fuel the different approaches to sentencing and punishment. These theories include the following:

Retribution. Some believe that the primary purpose of punishment should be to punish an offender for the wrong committed, society’s vengeance against a criminal. The sentiment is to punish criminals and promote public safety by keeping them off the streets.

Rehabilitation. Others believe that the primary purpose of punishment should be to rehabilitate criminals and to mend their criminal ways in order to encourage the adoption of a more socially acceptable lifestyle. Most experts agree that this theory is commendable but not practical in prisons. Many criminals boast of coming out better criminals than they were when they entered prison.

Deterrence. Still others argue that the perceived punishment for a crime should be so undesirable as to result in deterring someone from actually committing a crime for fear of the likely punishment. Again, the theory is commendable, but many crimes are committed on impulse or under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Fear of punishment is usually not a deterrent under these circumstances. Moreover, repeat offenders do not fear incarceration the way that people who have been free all their lives might.

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.