Basic Criminal Law Concepts When facing criminal charges, you need to understand basic terms and concepts in order to make an informed decision. Here are some key terms and concepts that a criminal defendant should know and an attorney can help to enforce:
Presumption of Innocence In the United States of America, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That means that even when someone is charged with a crime, regardless of the evidence that may be presented against them at trial they are still presumed innocent. Only when the government can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial or the accused makes a plea of guilty or no contest is that presumption rebutted. The burden of proof lies with the government. It is not the defendant's job to prove their innocence at trial, it is the government’s job to prove guilt.
Charges and Elements of the Offense A person who is accused or charged should understand the specific charges brought against them and the elements that the prosecution must prove for each offense. The government needs to prove each and every element of a case beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, if someone in the state of Ohio is charged with domestic violence the government must prove that there is a household or family relationship between the accused and the alleged victim, and that the accused knowingly caused or attempted to cause physical harm to that family or household member. If the government cannot prove one of these elements, then they cannot prove the charge of domestic violence. Knowing the elements can assist in identifying potential defenses or weaknesses in the prosecution's case to properly defend the case.
Criminal Penalties Criminal penalties range from prison time to a fine in the state of Ohio. An attorney should be able to assist a client in identifying the potential penalties associated with the charges they are facing. Penalties can include fines, probation, imprisonment, suspension of driving licenses, the inability to own a firearm, and more. A conviction could also affect a person's employment status, so that needs to be a consideration as well. Understanding the severity of the potential consequences is crucial for making informed decisions about any case. If you don’t know the penalties, you cannot effectively evaluate the potential risks.
Constitutional Rights Defendants have several constitutional rights that protect them during criminal proceedings. But if someone misunderstands or simply does not know that these rights exist then they cannot be exercised to the benefit of the client. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney (only on cases that carry the possibility of jail in the state of Ohio), the right to confront your accuser, the right to a trial to a judge or potentially a jury of your peers, and protection against self-incrimination. Understanding these rights is essential to a proper evaluation of a case. Trial strategy will dictate what rights to exercise and when. Every case is different, so a thoughtful evaluation of the case is required to determine what the best course of action is.
Right to an Attorney Defendants have the right to legal representation if the potential penalties of the charge can carry jail or prison time. It is highly recommended to consult with and hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide guidance, protect your rights, and advocate on your behalf. If a person cannot afford an attorney and they are facing the potential of jail time, the court will appoint an attorney to that person’s case. Attorneys have the knowledge and expertise to navigate an increasingly complex legal system, build a defense strategy, and spot potential pitfalls on a case. The criminal justice system is difficult, if not impossible at times, to navigate without the guidance of an attorney.
Plea Bargains The criminal justice system as it stands could not exist without the plea bargain. Plea bargains are negotiated agreements between the prosecution and the defendant, typically involving a guilty or no contest plea to a lesser charge or reduced sentence. Occasionally, the offer from the government requires a Defendant to plea to the charge with no reduction. Defendants should understand the potential benefits and consequences of accepting a plea bargain, as well as the alternatives if they choose to proceed to trial. Most cases in the criminal justice system are resolved by a plea bargain. This may be the best course of action in some cases, and a terrible decision in others.
Evidence and Burden of Proof Evidence can come in many forms including witness testimony, video, audio, DNA, expert testimony, and written evidence among many other types of evidence. Understanding how evidence can or cannot be presented is a crucial component of evaluating a case. Defendants should be aware of the types of evidence that can be presented or not presented at trial in order to evaluate their case.
Conclusion Remember, while it is essential to have a basic understanding of the law as a criminal defendant, seeking the guidance of a qualified attorney is of paramount importance. They can provide personalized advice and navigate the legal complexities to protect the defendant's rights and work towards the best possible outcome. While many cases and charges can be similar to others, almost no criminal case is identical.
Every case is different. If you are looking for an experienced criminal defense attorney, call Brian C. Morrissey, for a free initial consultation at 419-830-7441 to discuss the specifics of your case.
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