The Criminal Law Handbook – Know Your Rights, Survive the System

“The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System” by Attorneys Paul Bergman & Sara J. Berman is an impressive 678 page tome of information all about criminal law. The book sets out to assist you with understanding the confusing rules and procedures involved with criminal offences and to teach you how the system works, why police, lawyers, and judges do what they do, and most importantly, what you can do to limit the harm. I feel it accomplishes that goal very well. Most of the book is written in an understandable question-and-answer format to explain the criminal justice system, both inside and outside the courtroom. It goes from initial police questioning through trials to prison and parole.

One must remember that Nolo focuses on making the law accessible to everyone, and the books published by Nolo do an outstanding job of doing just that. Therefore, this book isn’t a criminal law text book as you would find in law school, but a comprehensive guide for the non-lawyer or layperson. For such a guide, it is very good and includes a lot of information.

The twenty-seven chapters are broken down like this:

Chapter One: Talking to the Police. Chapter provides information on police questioning of people who haven’t been taken into custody and questioning of arrestees.

Chapter Two: Search and Seizure. Some of the topics covered here include: search warrants, plain view doctrine, stop and frisk, searches of cars, and warrantless searches.

Chapter Three: Arrest: When It Happens, What It Means. This chapter covers general arrest principles, arrest warrants, warrantless arrests, use of force when making arrests, and citizens’ arrests.

Chapter Four: Eyewitness Identification: Psychology and Procedures. Topics include eyewitness identification procedures, psychology of eyewitness identification, lineups, showups, photo identification, and motions to suppress identification.

Chapter Five: Booking and Bail: Checking In and Out of Jail. The booking process, arranging for bail, and being released on your own recognizance are covered here.

Chapter Six: From Suspect to Defendant. This chapter focuses on crime and criminal cases and charging, grand juries, and diversion.

Chapter Seven: Criminal Defense Lawyers. Do you need a lawyer, court-appointed attorneys, private defense attorneys, and self-representation are covered in this chapter.

Chapter Eight: Understanding the Attorney-Client Relationship in a Criminal Case. Topics include confidentiality, client-centered decision making, lawyer-client communication, among others.

Chapter Nine: A Walk Through Criminal Court. The courthouse, courtroom, courtroom players, and courtroom behavior are explained.

Chapter Ten: Arraignments. Timing and self-representation at arraignments are looked at here.

Chapter Eleven: Developing the Defense Strategy. Just what the chapter title says, the basics of defense strategy.

Chapter Twelve: Crimespeak: Understanding the Language of Criminal Laws. Basics about things such as murder and manslaughter, sexual violence, burglary, robbery, hate crimes, Patriot Act and more.

Chapter Thirteen: Defensespeak: Common Defenses to Criminal Charges. Topics such as partial defenses, self-defense, alibi, and insanity are covered here among others.

Chapter Fourteen: Discovery: Exchanging Information With the Prosecution. Discovery is an important part of any legal or civil case and this chapter provides the basics for the criminal arena.

Chapter Fifteen: Investigating the Facts. Interviews and witnesses are a couple of the things covered here.

Chapter Sixteen: Preliminary Hearings. What they are, what your rights are, and common strategies of both sides are presented here.

Chapter Seventeen: Fundamental Trial Rights of the Defense. Topics covered include: Due Process, Burden of Proof, Right to Remain Silent, Right to Confront Witnesses, Right to Jury Trial, Right to Counsel, and others.

Chapter Eighteen: Basic Evidence Rules in Criminal Trials. There are procedures that must be followed when presenting evidence and this chapter provides guidelines for doing it right.

Chapter Nineteen: Motions and Their Role in Criminal Cases. Learn what they are and what they are for in this chapter.

Chapter Twenty: Plea Bargains: How Most Criminal Cases End. Basics on plea bargains, the pros and cons, the process, and the strategy of negotiating plea bargains are covered in this chapter.

Chapter Twenty-one: The Trial Process. Good chapter on the various aspects of a trial from choosing a judge or jury to deliberations and verdict.

Chapter Twenty-two: Sentencing: How the Court Punishes Convicted Defendants. The basics of sentencing procedures and options and a bit about the death penalty.

Chapter Twenty-three. Appeals: Seeking Review by a Higher Court. Losing at trial does not necessarily mean it is over. This chapter covers appeals and writs.

Chapter Twenty-four: How the Criminal Justice System Works: A Walk Through Two Drunk Driving Cases. Examples using drunk driving.

Chapter Twenty-five: Juvenile Courts and Procedures. Special chapter explaining the how things work in Juvenile Courts.

Chapter Twenty-six: Prisoners’ Rules. Information covering prisons and prisoners’ rights, legal resources, parole and pardons.

Chapter Twenty-seven. Looking Up the Law. What and where to research, including a glossary.

Again, this book is a large tome of information. It is organized well and has many side-bars and examples. If you have a question regarding criminal law, more than likely this book will have an answer. The authors do point out that the law varies from state to state, and I’d recommend that besides this book, anyone dealing with the criminal system on their own look to the statutes in the jurisdiction they are in to ensure they have the law that is applicable to their case. That’s why I really like that the final chapter provides guidance in this area. The authors also note that the book is not intended as a detailed guide to self-representation. It is a thorough overview of the entire system, but it’s not everything, and that’s because you can’t put everything regarding our complex system in one book.

This is an excellent tour of the criminal justice system and one of the best resources around for the layperson who wants or needs to navigate the complex maze of rules and laws that make up our system. I recommend it highly for anyone who wants to know all about criminal law.

The Difference Between Criminal Law and Civil Law

There are two comprehensive categories of law used in the United States legal system: civil law and criminal law. Although separate types of cases, some crimes can be both a civil and criminal violation of law. Continue reading to learn the differences between civil and criminal law, as well as, examples of such cases.

Civil Law

Civil law is the area of the American legal system that manages disputes or wrong-doings between private parties. A common example of such cases involve injuries. If someone is wrongfully injured by another person demonstrating negligence or malicious intent, they can ask the courts to decide who is at-fault and if the negligent party should pay remuneration to the injured person. The same goes for family law and divorce cases, disagreements over property ownership, breach of contracts, wrongful terminations, and more.

Anyone found guilty of a civil crime or infraction will not be subjected to jail time, government fines, or capital punishment. Instead, most civil litigations end with a negligent party being order to compensate the injured party for their losses and any additional damages caused by the defendant’s negligence. Recompense is often times paid by the defendant’s insurance provider, but sometimes, they must pay out-of-pocket. If they have no money, assets, or insurance, an injured person may not receive any recompense, even if it is court-ordered.

As for burden of proof, civil cases and criminal cases differ greatly. In civil law, the plaintiff has the burden of proving their damages or the negligent act of the opposing party. Once the plaintiff party reveals their proof of negligence, the defendant also has a burden to disprove the plaintiff’s proof and convince the courts of their innocence. In a civil case, a plaintiff and a defendant must hire and pay for their own attorney, or choose to defend themselves. Only in criminal cases will the state offer a lawyer for free.

Criminal Law

In contrast to civil law, criminal law involves crimes against the state, government, or society in whole, rather than a private party or person. Criminal violations, like felonies and misdemeanors, are subjected to state and federal punishment; therefore, guilty person’s face jail time, governmental fines, and in extreme cases, the death penalty. Although a murder is a crime against a person, the crime itself goes against state and federal law, therefore making it a criminal case, rather than a civil one. These cases go to a jury trial where defendants are prosecuted by the state. In criminal litigation, defendants are allowed to appoint their own attorney, or have one appointed to them by the state if they cannot afford to pay for one themselves.

In criminal law, the burden of proof shifts to a more complex principle. First, it is always up to the state prosecutors to provide evidence in order to prove that a defendant is guilty. All people are innocent until proven guilty, so the defendant has no burden of proving their own innocence at all in a criminal case. There are a few exceptions to this rule, in the case of insanity claims and self-defense claims. The state has the responsibility of proving “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a defendant is guilty of the crime in question. There has to be virtually 100% certainty that a defendant is guilty for a jury to hand down a guilty verdict.

Consequences of a Crime Under Criminal Law

The concept of punishment makes a major distinction between criminal law and civil law. While in civil law there is no prosecution per se; rather a reimbursement to the plaintiff by the losing defendant, in criminal law a guilty defendant is punished by imprisonment, fines, or the death penalty. In criminal law, maximum sentences on felonies could go to up to a jail term of one year and for misdemeanors a maximum sentence of less than one year. A civil case conducted under tort law can lead to punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct is proved to have intentions for malicious action (cause harm), negligence, willful disregard to other people’s rights.

Compensation for the Plaintiff under Criminal Law

These damages are usually significant in torts that involve such cases as privacy invasion, which may involve a dignitary; and civil rights in cases where the injury or harm done when translated to monetary form is minimal or negligible. Punitive damages are usually intended to teach the public a lesson through the defendant so that the same act may not be repeated. However, these damages are never awarded under contract law where there is a previous contract or agreement involved beforehand.

Tort claims can be paid through insurance that is purchased specifically to pay damages and also to cover the attorney’s fees. This insurance is similar to the standard insurance purchased for business, homeowners and vehicle. However, the defendant may not be able to purchase the same to make payments for his/her offense under Criminal Law.

If the defendant is ordered to pay for damages and he/she does not have assets or insurance or has hidden the assets carefully, the plaintiff will receive nothing in damages. Therefore, large claims awarded to plaintiffs for damages are often a waste of time.

The outcome of a case is considered effective to an extend where punishment may not necessarily transform a criminal found guilty under either criminal law or civil law or stop them from committing the same act again. As rational as human-beings are thought to be, criminals are thought to be irrational and it is not considered that they will be caught a second or third time; hence, continuous offense without consideration of possible punishment. However, denial of criminals’ movement rights by enclosing them in prison for a certain period of time may be seen as a much more effective punishment. Therefore, criminal proceeding under criminal law is seen to have more serious impact than under civil law. People tend to choose the loss of freedom rather than the payment of heavy fines that may not necessarily be available to the defendants.