About Criminal Law


Law is determined either as Civil law or Criminal law and simply put, is a system of laws that is concerned with the punishment of individuals who commit a crime under state or federal law.

A civil case is where two parties dispute their rights, a criminal prosecution instead involves the government (state or federal) deciding whether to punish an individual for either an act or an omission. A “crime” is any act or omission in violation of a law prohibiting the action or omission.

Criminal Codes

Each US state decides under their own laws what conduct designates a crime. This means that each state has its own criminal code. Congress, by writing legislation also choses to punish certain conduct. Federal criminal law is codified in Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

Criminal laws vary significantly among the states and the federal government. While some statutes resemble the common law criminal code, others, like New York Penal Law closely mimic what is known as the Model Penal Code (MPC).

Federal Codification of Criminal Procedure

Congress has codified the federal criminal law and criminal procedure Title 18 of the U.S. Code with sections 1-2725 dealing with crimes.

What Does This Mean?

Title 18 designates various conduct as federal crimes. Here are some examples:

  • Arson
  • Counterfeit & Forgery
  • Espionage
  • Kidnapping
  • Embezzlement

These statutes usually determine a maximum sentence appropriate for a convicted individual. The federal government has also codified (written into law) the specific procedures which must take place during the course of a criminal proceeding in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

The Elements of a Crime

An individual commits a crime if he or she acts in a way that fulfills every element of an offense. The statute establishing the offense also establishes the elements of the offense.

In general, every crime involves three elements: first, the act or conduct second, the individual’s mental state at the time of the act and thirdly the causation between the act and the effect (in legal language known typically either as “proximate causation or ‘but-for causation”).

In a criminal prosecution, the government has the burden of proof to establish every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Types of Crimes

Crimes can be generally separated into four categories:

  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Inchohate Offenses
  • Strict Liability
  • Offenses

Each state, and the federal government makes their own decision on what sort of conduct and actions to criminalize. At common law there were nine major felonies. These were listed as Murder, Robbery, Manslaughter, Rape, Sodomy, Larceny, Arson, Mayhem & Burglary and also various misdemeanors i.e. assault, battery, false imprisonment, perjury and and intimidation of jurors.

The U.S. Code is far more extensive than the common law. Nonetheless, Congress has limited power to make criminal laws. As this power is generally reserved to the states, state criminal codes, such as the NY penal Law can be far more complicated than the U.S. Code. For example The N.Y. Penal Law prescribes nine levels of felonies, ranging from anything from residential mortgage fraud in the fourth degree to terrorism.

Sentencing Guidelines

The federal government and state governments have created various sentencing guidelines. Federal courts use the Federal Sentencing Guidelines while state courts will look at state-specific sentencing guidelines.

There is also liability for Accomplices. When multiple parties are involved, the traditional first step is to classify the participants according to the following categories:

  • Principal In The First Degree – those who actually commit a crime (i.e. the perpetrator). Perpetrators are not
    accomplices and this section does not pertain to them.
  • Principal In The Second Degree – those who aided, counseled, commanded, or encouraged the perpetrator in the actual commission of a crime. An abettor is considered an accomplice.
  • Accessory before the fact – those who aided, counseled, commanded, or encouraged the perpetrator to commit the crime, without actually being present at the moment of perpetration. An accessory (before the fact) is considered an accomplice.
  • Accessory after the fact – those who aid an individual, knowing the individual to be a criminal, in an effort to hinder the individual’s detection, arrest, trial, or punishment. Accessories (after the fact) are guilty of a separate crime, so this section does not pertain to them.


There are a number of defenses available to a defendant in a criminal prosecution. The following list illustrates the most common defenses individuals rely on:

  • Failure of Proof – an individual’s simplest defense in a criminal prosecution is to claim that the prosecution has not or cannot prove an element of the offense.
  • Mistakes – in certain circumstances, an individual’s mistake can be used as a defense.
    1. Mistake of Law– a mistake regarding the legal status or effect of some situation.
    2. Mistake of Fact– a mistake regarding the facts of some situation.
  • Justifications – these are known as complete defences
    1. Self defence – the use of force to protect oneself from an attempted injury by another.
    2. Defence of property a person may use force to protect his property from a felony occurring within.
    3. Defense of others -the right of a person to protect a third party with reasonable force against an assailant who seeks to inflict force upon the third party.
    4. Necessity sometimes referred to as the “choice of evils,” the necessity defense allows an individual to engage in otherwise unlawful conduct if by doing so the individual avoids a greater harm.
  • Excuses – these are known as partial defences:
    1. Duress – an individual may plead duress if another individual forced him or her to engage in the illegal conduct by force or threat of force.
    2. Intoxication – an individual who was involuntarily intoxicated can plead intoxication as a defense to every crime. An individual who was voluntarily intoxicated can plead intoxication as a defense only to crimes that require a specific mental state.
    3. Insanity – an insane individual cannot form the requisite mental state, and thus cannot be found guilty.

Federal Criminal Law & Tribal Law

The United States Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, executive orders, and court decisions establish and define the unique legal and political relationship that exists between the United States and Indian tribes.

Federal laws give the Department of Justice with primary jurisdiction over most felonies that occur on Indian lands in most states.

As such, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorneys’ Offices are the primary federal law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting most serious felony crimes that occur in Indian country including homicides, aggravated assaults, sex offenses, and large scale theft or embezzlement.

  • Other federal law enforcement agencies are also active in Indian country; for example, the
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (drug offenses)
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (firearms offenses and arson)
  • United States Marshals Service (fugitives and sex offender investigations)
  • Customs and Border Protection (border offenses).

Most common less serious misdemeanor crimes are usually investigated and prosecuted by tribal law enforcement agencies.

Tribal police and tribal courts handle the majority of criminal offenses occurring in Indian country and often do so in ways that are appropriate given the priorities, needs, and resources of each particular tribal community.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation provides Special Agents who investigate serious felony crimes in Indian country. The FBI has a number of field offices located on or near Indian reservations. In addition, the FBI is home to the Indian Country Special Crimes Unit (ICSCU).

United States Attorney’s Offices

The vast majority of criminal prosecutions for felony crimes committed within Indian country are handled by United States Attorneys’ Offices. The designated Tribal Liaison within United States Attorneys’ Offices may be contacted regarding issues that arise in Indian Country. The United States Attorneys’ Offices have identified five basic priorities on which to focus in Indian country:

(1) homeland security
(2) violent crimes
(3) Indian gaming
(4) white collar crime
(5) jurisdictional issues.

Tribal Justice Agencies

As sovereigns recognized by the United States to have certain powers of self-government, many tribes have established their own criminal justice programs. Most of these programs receive at least partial funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and/or the Department of Justice. Tribal governments often have some combination of a police department, criminal investigations unit, crime victim services office, court, detention facility, and/or a probation/parole department.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs

Office of Justice Services (formerly known as the Office of Law Enforcement Services) provides law enforcement and corrections services to tribes which are subject to federal criminal jurisdiction, but have yet to establish their own tribal law enforcement or corrections programs.

Criminal Case Law


MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court. The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American criminal jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for… click to see more


JUSTICE O’CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court. This case requires us to consider the proper standards for judging a criminal defendant’s contention that the Constitution requires a conviction or death sentence to be set aside because counsel’s assistance at the trial or sentencing was ineffective... click to see more


MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court. The Constitution prohibits the criminal conviction of any person except upon proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358. The question in this case is what standard is to be applied in a federal habeas corpus… click to see more


JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.This case presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule should be modified so as not to bar the use in the prosecution’s case in chief of evidence obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant… click to see more


JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court. At issue in this case is the constitutionality of a New York criminal statute which prohibits persons from knowingly promoting sexual performances by children under the age of 16 by distributing material which depicts such performances… click to see more


Criminal Law Resources

Lawyer Reviewed Cases

Krakover v. Kirector of Revenue

reviewed by DC DUI Lawyer

The Director of Revenue (Director) appeals from the judgment setting aside the revocation of Tom Krakover’s driving privileges. We affirm. Director notified Krakover that his driving privileges would be revoked for one year for refusing to submit to a chemical test of his blood… click to see more


State Missouri v. Waddell Mcconnell

reviewed by Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center

Mr. Hugh Buss was found stabbed to death in his tailor shop in Kansas City. Sometime in March, Robert Land, in police custody on other charges, told police that he had gone with Waddell McConnell to Buss’s shop and that McConnell had killed Buss after they had robbed him… click to see more


People v. Rodrigues

reviewed by Valery Nechay Law

Defendant Jose Arnaldo Rodrigues was convicted by a jury of one count of murder, 1 count of attempted robbery, and one count of burglary. The jury found true the special circumstances that defendant committed the murder while engaging in the crime of robbery or attempted robbery… click to see more


People v. Thompson

reviewed by Law Office of Christopher E. Chaney

A concerned citizen followed defendant, who was driving dangerously and under the influence of alcohol, through the streets of Santa Barbara in the early evening of July 21, 2003. Although defendant sped away and managed to get home, the police, with that citizen’s assistance, arrived at the house a short time later… click to see more

State v. Butler

reviewed by Scrofano Law

Curtis Andrew Butler appeals convictions for manufacturing marijuana, possessing marijuana, and using drug paraphernalia. He argues that the trial court erred in (1) denying his request for public funds to hire a medical marijuana expert, and (2) rejecting his common law defense of medical necessity… click to see more

State v. Woods

reviewed by JPM Lawyer

A Spokane County jury found Dwayne Anthony Woods guilty of two counts of aggravated first degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder, and one count of attempting to elude a police vehicle. Following a determination by the jury that there were insufficient circumstances to merit leniency… click to see more

Lawyer Disciplinary Board v. George N. Sidiropolis

reviewed by Scrofano Law

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA January 2019 Term No. 17-1134, LAWYER DISCIPLINARY BOARD, Petitioner V. GEORGE N. SIDIROPOLIS, A Member of the West Virginia State Bar, Respondent, Lawyer Disciplinary Proceeding No. 15-03-272. LAW LICENSE SUSPENDED AND OTHER SANCTIONS IMPOSED. Submitted: April 24, 2019 Filed: June 7, 2019… click to see more 

Prows v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

reviewed by Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center

Plaintiff, a federal inmate currently incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) at Phoenix, Arizona, commenced this action primarily to obtain injunctive relief with respect to various aspects of the conditions of his confinement at FCI Englewood, Colorado, as well as an order compelling his placement in a halfway house or community… click to see more


reviewed by Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center

JUSTICE KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, and IV,+ and an opinion with respect to Part V, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE SCALIA join. The Court of Appeals held invalid an Ohio statute that, with certain exceptions, prohibits any person from performing an abortion on an unmarried, unemancipated, minor woman absent notice… click to see more

Sean Christopher Hodges v. Ben Collins

reviewed by The Chouhan Law Firm, LLC

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Collins’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10) and Defendants Cannon and City of Byron’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 14). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Collins’s Motion is GRANTED and Defendants Cannon and City of Byron’s Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part… click to see more

Lott v. State

reviewed by Philip Kim Law, P.C.

Following a jury trial, co-defendants Henry Kelvin Lott and Linda Watson were convicted on one count of trafficking in cocaine1 and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.2 Lott was also convicted by the same jury on one count of possession of hydrocodone. Both appeal their convictions and the denial of their respective motions for new trial, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions… click to see more

Williams v. Daus

reviewed by Ozarks DWI Law Clinic

Dr. Arthur S. Daus (“Appellant”) appeals from a jury verdict against him based on medical negligence related to two surgeries performed on Madonna J. Williams (“Respondent”). Appellant asserts five points of trial court error. The first three points essentially claim that Respondent failed to make a submissible case on some of the categories of damages awarded to Respondent… click to see more

Hargett v. State

reviewed by Scrofano Law PC

Kim Hargett v. State of Maryland No. 1809, Sept. Term 2019 Opinion by Shaw Geter, J.Criminal Law > Pretrial Procedures > Request to Discharge Counsel Meaningful trial proceedings had not commenced on the day of trial when the trial judge summoned the venire panel to the courtroom, but they had not arrived or entered the courtroom to begin jury selection when the defendant made a request to discharge counsel… click to see more

People v. Cardoza

reviewed by The Law Office of Valery Nechay

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.A jury found defendant Lawrence Pepe Cardoza guilty of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, evading a peace officer, driving against the proper direction of traffic while evading a peace officer…click to see more

In re Disciplinary Proceeding Against Honorable James C. Kaiser

reviewed by DWI Criminal Law Center

We hold that campaign statements made by District Judge James C. Kaiser violate Canons 1, 2(A) and 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Those Canons require a judge to uphold the integrity of the judiciary, prohibit statements of party affiliation and prohibit pledges or promises of politically favored treatment. We censure Judge Kaiser… click here to see more

State of New Jersey v. Aaron P. Schmidt

reviewed by DWI Criminal Law Center

The question before the Court is whether a defendant’s failure to provide proper breath samples — of sufficient volume and length — during the administration of a breath-based blood alcohol test, constituted an “ambiguous or conditional” response sufficient to require the reading of a second statement in addition to the Standard Statement… click to see more

The People of the State of Illinois v. Loyd Dale Allen

reviewed by The Law Offices of Andrew Nickel

JUSTICE COOK delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Turner and Justice Steigmann concurred in the judgment and opinion… In January 2011, after a bench trial, defendant, Loyd Dale Allen, was found guilty in absentia of driving under the influence… click here to see more

Mickey Davis v. State of Indiana

reviewed by The Law Office of Valery Nechay

MEMORANDUM DECISION Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.. click here to see more

Stanley v. State Bar of California

reviewed by The Law Office of Christopher Chaney

Petitioner, Martin Louis Stanley, seeks review of a decision of the Review Department of the State Bar Court (the department)recommending that he be disbarred from the practice of law in California… click here to see more

Mzembe v. Miller et al

reviewed by DWI Criminal Law Center

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANASOUTH BEND DIVISION Lindani A. Mzembe, Plaintiff,v.Case No. 3:16-CV-894 JVB Robert L. Miller, Jr., and David Wemhoff, Defendants.OPINION AND ORDER Lindani A. Mzembe, a pro se prisoner, filed a complaint. “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed… click here to see more

Walsh v. Commissioner of Public Safety

reviewed by DWI Criminal Law Center

Reversed UNPUBLISHED OPINION Appellant Thomas Edward Walsh challenges the revocation of his driver’s license under Minn. Stat. §á169A.52, subd. 4(a) (2000), arguing that his limited right to counsel was not vindicated… click here to see more

The People v. Kevin Lee Mayberry

reviewed by Oliverson & Huss Law PLLC

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b)… click here to see more

People v. Garstecki

reviewed by Manji Law, P.C.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald and Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.OPINIONFollowing a jury trial in the circuit court of Will County, defendant, Daniel Garstecki, was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol… click here to see more

In Re the Reciprocal Discipline of

reviewed by Mullen Law Firm

En BancOn a BR 3.5 notice of discipline in another jurisdiction and recommendation filed August 6, 2012.Linn D. Davis, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel, Oregon State Bar, filed the notice of discipline in another jurisdiction and recommendation and reply… click here to see more

Chris Williams v. City of Spokane, et al

reviewed by Philip Kim Law, P.C

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON DIVISION THREECHRIS WILLIAMS, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated,Respondent,v.CITY OF SPOKANE; and AMERICAN TRAFFIC SOLUTIONS, INC, a foreign corporation, Petitioners… click here to see more

People v. Hill

reviewed by The Law Office of Christopher Chaney

Shawn Hill was convicted in 1988 in Los Angeles County Superior Court of the robbery and first degree murder of Stuart Margetts (Pen. Code, §§ 211, 187; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise stated), the attempted robbery and attempted… click to see more


reviewed by The Waltman Firm

Appellant Donna Jean Davis was found guilty of felony murder in connection with the stabbing death of Danny Reid, her fiance’s brother. The State presented evidence that appellant and her four children shared a Cobb County mobile home with Darryl Reid… click to see more

People v. Ochoa

reviewed by The Law Office of Valery Nechay

A jury convicted defendant Sergio Ochoa of two counts of first degree murder (Pen. Code, § 187; all further statutory references are to this code unless otherwise indicated) and one count of attempted second degree robbery (§§ 664, 211)… click to see more

State v. Henderson

reviewed by Your Arizona Legal Team Oliverson & Huss

On November 9, 1982, the Maricopa County Grand Jury indicted appellant, Viva Leroy Nash, aka Paul Henderson, on one count of first degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of theft of property with a value of more… click to see more

Love v. State

reviewed by Philip Kim Law, P.C.

Appellant Everette Bryan Love was stopped on I-85 in Gwinnett County for speeding at 11:30 p.m. on May 31, 1996. After approaching appellant’s stopped vehicle, the officer arrested appellant for driving under the influence based on the odor of marijuana… click to see more

Thomas v. State

reviewed by Scrofano Law

A Pierce County jury found Covell Paul Thomas guilty of one count of aggravated first degree murder, one count of residential burglary, and unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree. The death penalty was imposed following the jury’s determination that… click to see more

Washington v. McFarland

reviewed by DC DUI Lawyer

JOHNSON, J. — We accepted and consolidated these cases to consider whether a defendant should be allowed to challenge a warrantless arrest for the first time on appeal where the defendant alleges failure to challenge the arrest at trial constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel… click to see more

Washington v. Petrich

reviewed by MD Criminal Law

Petitioner was charged with one count of indecent liberties and one count of second degree statutory rape. At trial, numerous incidents of sexual contact were described in varying detail. He was convicted on both counts and now seeks review of his convictions, contending… click to see more

Cox v. Spangler

reviewed by JPM Lawyer

Deborah Cox sustained injuries when an automobile she was driving at her employer’s direction was struck from behind by another automobile. Because her injuries were work related, she received industrial insurance benefits for the injuries she sustained in the accident… click to see more

The People v. Crews 

reviewed by Law Offices of Andrew Nickel

The defendant, Veronica Crews, jury having been waived, was convicted of murder in a bench trial in the circuit court of Kane County and sentenced to death. In this appeal the defendant complains: (1) that she was not proved guilty of murder beyond all reasonable doubt or, alternatively, that she was proved guilty only of voluntary manslaughter… click to see more

State v. Chaney

reviewed by Ozarks DWI Law Clinic

This slip opinion is subject to revision and may not reflect the final opinion adopted by the Court… A jury convicted Timothy Chaney of murder in the first degree. The trial court sentenced Chaney to death in accordance with the jury’s recommendation. This Court has exclusive appellate jurisdiction in all cases in which the death penalty is imposed… click to see more

State v. Rousan

reviewed by Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center

Opinion Vote: AFFIRMED. All concur. Opinion: Appellant, William L. Rousan, appeals from convictions for two counts of first degree murder, section 565.020.1 1, for which he received one sentence of death and one sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Affirmed… click to see more

Criminal Law Stories

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