Criminal law is defined as the prosecution by our State government of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime. In a criminal case, the state, through a prosecutor, initiates the suit. Persons convicted of a crime may be incarcerated, fined, or both. A "crime" is any act or omission of an act in violation of a public law forbidding or requiring it. Crimes consist of common law crimes and statutory crimes. Criminal laws may vary significantly from state to state. Crimes include both felonies (more serious offenses -- like murder or armed robbery) and misdemeanors (less serious offenses -- like second degree assault or petty theft). Under any criminal charge, the State has the burden to prove each and every element of the crime to yield a conviction. The prosecutor must persuade the jury or judge "beyond a reasonable doubt" of every fact necessary to constitute the crime charged. For certain incarcerable crimes, persons have a Constitutional right to trial by jury, together with other rights guaranteed by our U.S. Constitution.
There are numerous dispositions one may obtain when charged with a criminal offense depending often on the person’s criminal record, to include the severity of the crime, and/or whether a third party sustained injury to their person or property. If the criminal charge is tried before the judge or jury, a person may obtain an acquittal, or not guilty finding, or a finding of guilt of the crime. Upon a finding of guilt a court has numerous options at its disposal to sentence and/or punish the person. The court may impose jail time, a fine (or both), or offer the person probation before judgment.
Probation before judgment is a disposition where the court will grant a person “probation before judgment” if accepted by the guilty person, and strike the finding of guilt. Simply put, the person will be placed on probation for a specified length of time under the terms the court deems appropriate and will not have a conviction. In the event the person violates the terms of the probation granted to it by the court, a finding of guilt may be entered by the court and the person sentenced. The benefit of “probation before judgment” is that a person is afforded an opportunity to avoid conviction of a crime, which may, under certain circumstances, be expunged.
The prosecutor has the ability to enter the offense “nolle prosequi” (Latin for unwilling to pursue), wherein the charge is dropped or withdrawn by the State. This often occurs when a person is wrongfully charged or the State is without sufficient evidence to pursue the charges. Additionally, the prosecutor may place the matter on a stet docket, or inactive docket, for a specified period of time and under certain conditions. During the term of the “stet”, the State may re-instate the matter for any reason (generally upon further violations or violation of the terms of the stet), and after the term of the stet, for good cause only. The person charged does not enter a plea of innocence or guilt, and if the matter is removed from the stet docket and placed on the active docket, the person maintains all defenses and pleas he/she would have had, had the matter proceeded to trial prior to the matter being placed on the stet docket, except the person’s right to a speedy trial. The prosecutor and the person charged may agree to “probation before judgment” at any stage of the proceeding; HOWEVER, it is important to note that the court is not bound by the recommendations of the state and may exercise any authority under statute that it would otherwise have.
Certain traffic offenses may have both civil and criminal components which can often be complex and difficult to navigate. For certain alcohol related traffic offenses, such as a driving under the influence of alcohol, a person is required to appear before the State court to face charges, but has the right to challenge the suspension of their driver’s license or modify the suspension of their driver’s license under certain conditions. A criminal conviction can often severely impact a person’s life in many other indirect aspects, including but not limited to a loss of employment; difficulty in obtaining employment; an adverse impact on a non-citizen’s immigration status in the United States; civil implications in domestic proceedings; and many other unforeseen consequences.
Crimes for which person receives a certain disposition or result, an expungement may be obtained which ordinarily means that an arrest or conviction becomes "sealed," or erased from a person's criminal record for most purposes. After the expungement process is complete, 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.
It is important and arguably indispensable to obtain competent legal counsel to provide to you advice and representation to formulate an effective legal defense and proper presentation to the court to negate and/or mitigate penalties and sentencing. There is not greater liberty one can have than their freedom. Do not ignore or underestimate the need to seek competent legal advice when protecting your freedom.