Historically, criminal law wasn’t practiced the way Pennsylvania lawyers practice it today. The Britannica Concise Encyclopedia describes criminal law as the “[b]ody of law that defines criminal offenses, regulates the apprehension, charging, and trial of suspected offenders, and fixes punishment for convicted persons.” In the U.S., criminal law evolved from common law–”[t]he system of laws originated and developed in England and based on court decisions, on the doctrines implicit in those decisions, and on customs and usages rather than on codified written laws”–but was later officially set down in federal and state statutes.
Under U.S. law, every accused is innocent until proven guilty. That said, residents finding themselves accused of a crime should consult with one of the many fine Pennsylvania lawyers experienced in practicing criminal defense as soon as possible. Criminal defense attorneys know the laws and rights pertaining to criminal defense backwards and forwards, and probably upside down as well! Just the right sort of expert to have on your side when you step into the courtroom and face your accuser.
And when it comes to facing accusations in court, each defendant has the right to claim any and all defenses recognized by law. Examples include, but aren’t limited to, insanity, mistake of fact, or self-defense. Criminal law procedure is fairly similar across the board in the United States. Suspects are taken into custody by the police, at times due to serving of an arrest warrant. For serious crimes, cases are typically presented to a grand jury, which reviews evidence and, if it deems there is enough evidence to justify bringing the case to trial, drafts an indictment against the accused; if not, the case is dismissed entirely. Pennsylvania lawyers representing the accused in any crime typically hope for this result more than any other.
The accused may be released on bail while waiting for the case to come to trial. Trials are most typically tried by a jury unless the defendant consents to be tried before a judge, or if trial by jury is not required. Once the case goes to trial, the government–represented by the public prosecutor known as the district attorney–makes its case by presenting evidence and calling witnesses to testify. The accused is usually represented by legal counsel as well, either a Pennsylvania lawyer he or she has chosen, or a public defender appointed by the court.
The prosecution must then prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That burden of proof rests solely on the government–unless, of course, defendants inform their Pennsylvania lawyers they wish to plead guilty as charged. Those defendants found or adjudged innocent are discharged. If found guilty, however, the judge will deliberate and pronounce sentence on the convicted party. In criminal cases, this can range from community service to jail time to hard prison time or even the death penalty.
Defendants convicted of crimes have the right to file an appeal; the prosecution, however, does not share that right of appeal. Generally only felonies are appealed, since misdemeanors are much less serious in nature. While courts will not usually enforce the criminal law of another jurisdiction, the other jurisdiction can request an extradition so a fugitive from justice can be brought back to the place from which they fled. Of course, a fugitive who has fled to Pennsylvania from another state will most likely retain a Pennsylvania lawyer to try and fight the extradition, though success is far from a guarantee.
Whatever the circumstances of the charge or nature of the crime, defendants would do well to consult with an experienced Pennsylvania lawyer practicing criminal defense law. While defendants often have the right to represent themselves in court if they wish to, the serious nature of criminal law and the potential penalties make that an unwise thing to do.