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Home > Law & Legal Topics > Criminal Law

» Criminal Law:
Criminal law is the branch of law dealing with crimes and their prosecution.

Criminal law starts with an arrest or charge for violating a specific criminal law. Federal crimes are statutory. Most state laws are also statutory. Criminal statutes classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are generally punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year. Other crimes are misdemeanors. State laws often provide subcategories for each of these to further define the seriousness of the offense.

As such, a criminal violation only occurs when someone acts (or fails to act) in some way that is specifically spelled out in a criminal statute. Once the police have a belief that the necessary act has been committed, the actor can be detained for further investigation or arrested or charged with the crime.

Once charged, the criminal defendant is afforded one or more court hearings. This may include an arraignment, various pre-trial hearings, and a trial. Most criminal cases are resolved out of court through the plea bargain process.

The sentence may involve any number of punishments. This may include court-ordered rehabilitation or training, probation, incarceration in jail or prison, and even death. Sentences to incarceration in prison may be reduced by the state authorities. This often results in the criminal being released into the community under the supervision of a parole officer.

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