Criminal law refers to a set of rules put in place by the government to punish people who commit various crimes. Violators are prosecuted and punished according to the severity of their crimes. In a court of law, a judge seeks to find out whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor before passing judgment.
Misdemeanors are small crimes that are punishable by fines, shorter jail terms, or both. Some of these minor crimes are those that do not include violent acts against other parties. They include drug possession, petty theft, property destruction, shoplifting, and vandalism.
However, felonies are more serious crimes that are mostly characterized by violence towards others. Some of these crimes include murder, robbery with violence, rape, and many others. These criminal activities carry heftier punishments, to the extent of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The worst thing about committing felonies is that Missouri expungement laws do not apply. As such, the records are publicly available on criminal databases.
Categories of criminal offenses
Criminal offenses are divided into four main categories. They include:
- Personal crimes
Personal crimes are those harmful, violent activities that result in the physical, emotional, and mental injury of the victim. They include homicide, sexual assault cases, and other violent crimes.
Violent crimes where the assault took place, carry more severe punishments. As such, seeking the service of a reputable assault attorney is imperative.
- Property crimes
These are crimes such as burglary and vandalism, that harm another person’s property. Also, shoplifting and larceny are classified as property crimes
- Inchoate crimes
Inchoate crimes are simply crimes that were initiated but not followed through. Aiding, abetting, and conspiracy are good examples.
- Statutory crimes
These are crimes that are proscribed by the statute. They include all the above crimes, in addition to crimes such as drug possession/ trafficking, traffic offenses, white-collar crimes, and driving while intoxicated (DWI).
So, what are the steps undertaken when charged with a criminal offense?
The first thing after an alleged criminal is arrested, they are arraigned in a court of law. Here, the prosecutor reads to the judge the charges brought forward against the accused. It is at the arraignment that the accused pleads guilty or not guilty. If a not guilty plea is taken, an attorney is appointed if the accused cannot afford one. Also, the court might grant bail or order that the accused remain in police custody.
- Preliminary hearing
At this stage, the prosecutor gathers evidence to show that the accused is guilty and presents it to the judge. If the evidence is sufficient and the judge is convinced that the accused has a case to answer, the case goes to trial. Otherwise, the charges are dropped.
- Arraignment for the second time
The second arraignment happens in the superior court. It happens fourteen days after the preliminary hearing. Here, the prosecutor repeats the same processes undertaken in the first arraignment.
- Preliminary hearings and motions
Both sides prepare the case, as well as try negotiations. Motions to suppress evidence are brought forward by the defendant’s attorneys. The trials then commence, and witnesses are called to testify.
- Jury trial and sentencing
A twelve-member jury listens to the evidence, examines it, and returns a verdict. The judge then interprets the verdict and passes judgment.