The American court system has civil and criminal courts. Civil courts are for resolving disputes involving contracts, real estate, probate, personal injury, injunctions and other matters where a person’s liberty is not at stake. The remedy in these cases is usually monetary damages or a restriction on an activity or a requirement to perform an obligation.
The criminal court is to determine the guilt or innocence of a person and whether to incarcerate them and for how long. Fines can also be imposed as well as probation. All states have their own penal codes as does the federal government for federal criminal law violations.
Crimes are divided into misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are any crime where incarceration does not exceed one year and generally includes minor offenses like DUIs. Felonies are reserved for the more serious offenses such as identity theft. A felon can be sentenced to probation or to life without parole.
Criminal defendants are entitled to certain constitutional rights. These include being presumed innocent, being able to cross-examine witnesses, having a court-appointed attorney if indigent, and having access to exculpatory evidence. A defendant can only be convicted if found guilty on all elements of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt, by pleading guilty, or by being found guilty by a judge in a court trial or by an unanimous verdict in a jury trial.
A federal court can also prosecute a defendant found not guilty in certain state crimes since the federal government is a separate sovereign from the states.
Read the full article on Criminal Law