Criminal Law

Criminal Law contains: 15 Videos, 411 Articles, 289 FAQs, 1 Attorney Interviews

Criminal convictions have long-term consequences. For someone who has been charged with a crime, whether a DUI, assault, or a property crime like embezzlement or petty theft, worries about jail time and possible punishments and penalties may be just the beginning. Criminal charges are serious, and even with a first offense, a person charged with a crime may be facing consequences that can affect their life – permanently.

Long Term Consequences of a Conviction  

While the most pressing concern associated with criminal charges is often fear of being separated from family or loved ones, the ways a defendant can be permanently affected vary greatly. For example, a criminal defendant may lose their job or even their professional license, both common consequences of a criminal conviction. As extreme as it may sound, some states automatically revoke a plumber’s license for certain offenses. In addition, conviction for some crimes, such as drunk driving, can result in driver's license suspension. Some criminal defendants may be unable to find suitable employment in the future due to a criminal record that appears in background checks performed by a potential employer.

If a criminal defendant is not a legal U.S. resident, or has not yet been naturalized, any conviction could result in deportation or denial of citizenship. Regardless of the crime, the long-lasting immigration consequences of a criminal conviction often exceed a mere fine and jail sentence.

Criminal Sentences

Possible sentences for crimes vary depending on the nature and severity of the crime. Drunk driving, for example, can lead to sentences of up to ten or more years for second, third and subsequent offenses.  Even first drunk driving offenses can lead to mandatory minimum jail sentences of 30-90 days. Every subsequent DUI can, and likely will, be used to enhance the punishment for the next.  

Property crime and white collar crimes such as theft by fraud or securing documents by deception can lead to jail time, just like any other criminal offense. Defendants in ponzi schemes and mortgage fraud cases have also been receiving stiff prison sentences, in contrast to historically receiving probation. Because of recent economic turmoil, many state and federal jurisdictions have cracked down on white collar crime – even when the accused was not the “leader” or instigator of the criminal scheme.  

Crimes that are considered violent, like assault, sexual assault, and domestic violence may also result in jail sentences and other registration requirements. Even simple misdemeanor assaults can warrant jail time. However, if the offense is deemed a felony and a violent offense, the violent nature of the offense will likely enhance how a sentence is computed or served. For example, if a criminal defendant is prosecuted federally, the violent nature of the offense will “add points” to their sentence, which means they will be serving a longer sentence. States apply different parole rules to violent offenders. If two criminals – a drug dealer and a sex offender – receive the same sentence on the same date, the drug dealer is more likely to be paroled at an earlier date because his offense alone is not classified as violent. Such classifications make a difference; the wording used in a final judgment can have significant impact on the severity of a defendant’s sentence. 

Criminal Defense 

While not all crimes warrant the expense of a criminal lawyer, in general, most criminal charges are best handled by an attorney. An experienced criminal attorney is familiar with court procedures and will recognize possible defenses based on the particular facts of a criminal case. In some circumstances, a good criminal attorney may be able to get charges reduced, or even dismissed. This can happen when there is not enough evidence for a conviction or when there is enough evidence to support a good defense. For example, if a criminal defendant engaged in consensual sex with a teenage girl, resulting in statutory rape charges, some states will allow a defendant to claim an affirmative defense if the defendant is not more than 3 years older than the victim. An affirmative defense means that a criminal defendant will be found not guilty if the defense is true. It’s important to note, however, that if a defendant does not disclose an affirmative defense before entering their plea, they forever waive the right to that defense. 

Arrests and Searches

An experienced criminal lawyer will also review the more technical aspects of how evidence was seized. Evidence may be sufficient to convict a criminal defendant, but due to the way it was obtained by law enforcement, it could be ruled inadmissible by the presiding judge. This is common in search and seizure cases. For example, if you are stopped by a state trooper and he decides to search your vehicle, if he fails to obtain your consent (and there is not a good exception), the search is illegal and any items of evidence that would have been used against you are thrown out. This would mean there is no evidence left against you to warrant a conviction. Another common example is when the police obtain a search warrant to search your house or property. Every state has very technical requirements for what is considered a valid search warrant. If the warrant or the affidavit for the warrant does not meet your state’s requirements, any evidence gathered during a search founded by that warrant will be suppressed, or thrown out. If there is no evidence against you, your case will be dismissed. Similar to affirmative defenses, if you do not bring up these issues before you enter a plea of guilty or no contest, you waive valuable rights. 

Criminal Lawyers

In short, it is vital that any defendant seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney before resolving or “taking a plea,” on their criminal case. Many defendants are lured into accepting plea bargains with promises of “time-served” and “you’ll get out of jail today.” Even if a criminal defendant does get out of jail, the conviction and its consequences will last for years to come. An experienced criminal attorney will review paperwork, sufficiency of the evidence, punishment options, and potential defenses. Aside from taking the time to really look at the facts of the case, there are few get-out-of-jail-free cards. How a criminal case is handled before and during a plea can prevent a criminal conviction from bankrupting future educational and employment options.