Everything You Need To Know About Criminal Law: An Essential Guide For Everyone
Facing criminal charges can be overwhelming and also very complex. There are various types of crimes, and each type has its own set of rules and punishments that a person could face if they are found guilty. It is important to have a good criminal lawyer on your side to make sure that your rights are protected. Here is what you need to know about criminal law.
What is a crime?
A crime is an action or omission that breaks a law and that is punishable by the state (“the Crown”). When a person commits or is accused of committing a crime, that person is called the “defendant”. The lawyer representing the Crown is called a prosecutor and will attempt to prove that the defendant committed the crime.
Your rights if you are arrested.
If you are arrested or detained in Canada, you have the following rights:
- You must be told the reason why you are being detained or arrested.
- You must be told that you have the right to hire a lawyer or to receive free legal advice through Legal Aid.
- You must be allowed to speak to a lawyer of your choice in private as soon as is reasonably possible.
The difference between felonies and misdemeanors
Crimes can be categorized into how serious they are. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes whereas felonies are more serious. Misdemeanors also come with less serious punishments than felonies. Where a misdemeanor might be petty theft, a felony would include things like rape and murder.
Court procedures for felonies and misdemeanors also differ, so the type of crime that you are being charged with will guide your criminal lawyer on how to best fight your case.
Three types of crimes
We discussed some of the differences between felonies and misdemeanors, but there are actually three types of crimes that you could be tried for. These include:
- Infractions: These are the least serious type of crime. If found guilty, the punishment is usually fine, but no time spent in jail. Infractions are minor offenses such as minor traffic violations, littering, or causing a nuisance.
- Misdemeanors – these crimes are not as serious as felonies, but still more serious than misdemeanors. An example of a misdemeanor is petty theft or simple assault.
- Felonies – this is the most serious type of crime, and it is usually punishable with prison. Examples are felonies include rape, murder, and robbery.
What are the three elements of a crime?
In order to convict someone of committing a crime, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all three elements of a crime exist. The three elements are the act itself (actus reus), the mental state to commit the crime (mens rea) and the intention to commit the crime.
- Actus Reus: This is the physical element of committing the crime. The actus reus is the act or omission that is prohibited by law. For example, if the defendant is being tried for murder, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant actually killed another human being.
- The Mens Rea: This is the mental element of the crime. Did the defendant actually mean to commit the act or omission for which they are being tried?
- The Intent to Commit a Crime: Finally, the prosecutor must that the defendant intended to commit a crime.
Types of defenses
In a criminal trial, there are different types of defenses that can be used by the defendant. Here are some common defenses in criminal trials.
- Accident/mistake – the act or omission was committed but it was an accident or mistake.
- Alibi – if the defendant claims that they were not the one that committed the crime, it is helpful if they have an alibi who can testify that the defendant was somewhere else when the crime was committed.
- Self-defense – if the defendant’s lawyer can show that the defendant has a reasonable belief that they were in danger of bodily harm, then they can argue that the defendant acted in self-defense and did not have the mens rea or intent to commit a crime.
- Necessity – Necessity is the argument that the act or omission was committed because the defendant has a reasonable belief that their actions were necessary in order to prevent worse harm.
- Duress – Duress can be used as a defense to a criminal charge if the defendant has reason to believe that they will be harmed if they do not commit the crime in question.
- Intoxication – Another defense is that the defendant was too intoxicated to be able to have the intent to commit a crime.
If you are being charged with a crime, it is important to disclose all the details you can recall to your criminal lawyer so they can select the most appropriate defense (s) to best represent you during your trial.
The burden of proof and presumption of innocence
In Canada, it is up to the prosecutor to prove that you are guilty and not up to you to prove that you are innocent. Furthermore, the prosecutor must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt so they cannot use circumstantial evidence or hearsay.
Contact Minhas Lawyers today
If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to get representation from an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible so they can start building your defense and protect your rights. Contact Minhas Lawyers today to speak to a criminal lawyer.
Minhas Lawyers LLP is a multi-practice law firm based in Mississauga. We advise and represent clients across various segments and practice areas.
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