The U.S. Constitution, a document created after the American Revolution, guaranteed the innate equality of American citizens. The Constitution provided the basis for a fair system of laws to protect the innocent by requiring due process and evidentiary proof before assigning guilt to a person accused of a criminal act.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reinforced the need for fairness in adjudication when he stated, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Mistaken beliefs about criminal defense
Although some Americans view the practice of criminal defense law as a dishonorable profession built on graft and corruption to reduce or dismiss charges against those who commit crimes, in reality, the founders of the nation actively promoted the formation of a criminal defense system. They believed each citizen deserved to be fairly represented when suspected of committing a crime. Historically, this is the bedrock of American freedom. Injustice to the accused negates the freedom of every American to the right of criminal defense representation and the presumption of innocence.
Law enforcement jurisdictions
Four areas govern law enforcement agencies: federal, city, county and state. Differing rules can apply for the same offense, depending on geographical statutes. Obtaining criminal defense representation familiar with local laws can be an advantage. For federal crimes, representation by a defender experienced in federal law is essential.
Types of crimes and punishment
Confusion often exists about how the criminal justice system works. For example, some people are not sure of the difference between an infraction, a misdemeanor and a felony:
- Infraction – There is no jail time or jury trial, and a warning or payment of a fine dismisses an offense, as in the case of a traffic ticket.
- Misdemeanor – Jail time and heavy fines result, for example by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; representation and trial by jury are possible.
- Felony – Committing a severe crime, such as vehicular homicide, the accused receives automatic legal representation, a jury trial, and, if convicted, may incur extensive jail time and significant fines.
Purpose of criminal defense law
A criminal defense professional represents a person accused of committing a crime. An experienced defender, regardless of personal feelings toward the accused, will bring powerful legal tools to the table to protect the rights of his or her client. The majority of criminal defense professionals honorably practice laws designed to protect American liberties.