What is Criminal Defense Law?
Criminal law is the body of law that relates to crime. It proscribes conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people. Most criminal law is established by statute, which is to say that the laws are enacted by a legislature. It includes the punishment of people who violate these laws. The criminal law varies according to jurisdiction and differs from civil law, where the emphasis is more on dispute resolution and victim compensation than on punishment.
Criminal defense law consists of the legal protections afforded to people who have been accused of committing a crime. Law enforcement agencies and government prosecutors have extensive resources at their disposal. Without adequate protections for the accused, the balance of power within the justice system would become skewed in favor of the government.
As it is, fair treatment for criminal defendants often depends as much upon the skill of their defense attorney as it does the substantive protections contained in the law.
In general, a criminal defense strategy for your criminal prosecution will emerge as your criminal defense attorney finds out more about what the prosecutor is planning to do.
Because each criminal prosecution is different from every other, a particular criminal defense strategy is unique to the situation at hand. For example, if a prosecutor in one case lays out a story that has the defendant at the scene of the crime, the defense attorney will probably ask questions that may lay out a different story showing the defendant at another location. In addition, how the criminal defendant acts and answers questions that the prosecutor poses will also change the criminal defense strategy.
The Constitution provides many more protections that apply to the field of criminal defense law. Someone who has been tried and acquitted of a crime cannot again be charged with that office, as mandated by the “double jeopardy” provision of the Fifth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to a public trial, and in many cases, the right to have their guilt or innocence decided by a jury. It also affords the right to confront adverse witnesses and to use the court’s subpoena power to compel the appearance of favorable witnesses.
Denials and Admissions of Guilt
It is almost impossible for two defendants to come up with the exact same version of the events that took place during the crime. Generally speaking, a defendant's story will fall into one of three categories:
A "confession" story. This is where a defendant admits the crime to his or her attorney. As an example, the defendant comes into the attorney's office and admits that "yes, I did break into the car and steal the radio as well as the money in the glove compartment."
A "complete denial" story. This is where a defendant denies all of the charges that the prosecution has laid against the defendant. Perhaps the most popular complete denial story is one that involves an alibi. "There was no way I perpetrated the crime that I am accused of. In fact, I was out of town with my girlfriend. Why are they charging me with grand theft?"
An "admit and explain" story. This type of story generally falls somewhere between a confession and a denial story. These stories normally involve a legal justification for the "crime." For example, "They are saying that I broke the window of the car and stole the radio and the money. However, what I actually did was use the key my friend gave me when he went out of town to remove the valuables from his car that was parked in a bad neighborhood. The glass must have been broken after I removed the radio and the cash from the car."