Frequently Asked Questions about Criminal Defense

Q: Is unsuccessfully attempting to commit a crime an offense?

A: It may be. It depends on the circumstances and on the law of the jurisdiction. A person who intends to commit a particular crime and takes a substantial step toward perpetrating it, but fails to actually complete it may be guilty of the separate crime of attempt. Generally an act that is extremely remote from the completed crime, such as early preparation, will not be significant enough to constitute criminal attempt.

Q: What is the role of the grand jury?

A: The US Constitution requires that the federal government convene a grand jury to decide whether accusing a person of a major crime is appropriate. In a practice originating in England, the grand jury reviews the evidence and may hear testimony in deciding whether to indict someone, but the grand jury makes no decision about guilt or innocence. Another traditional purpose of the grand jury is to serve as a buffer between an overzealous prosecutor and the accused. All states also use the grand jury system to some extent.

Q: What is the role of the prosecutor?

A: The prosecutor is the attorney who represents the federal, state or local government in a case against a criminal defendant. The title of the prosecutor varies by jurisdiction, but some common titles include district attorney, county attorney, city attorney, United States attorney and state attorney. The prosecutor has the public duty to punish those committing crimes, balanced with the duty to fairly try such individuals.

Q: What is the difference between probation and parole?

A: Probation is a type of criminal sentence that allows a person to stay in the community rather than serve time in prison, as long as he or she complies with certain conditions, such as regularly reporting to a probation officer, refraining from alcohol and drugs and not committing further crimes. Parole is the supervised release of a prisoner from incarceration into the community before the end of his or her sentence. Conditions of parole are similar to those of probation.

Q: What is restitution in the criminal context?

A: Depending on the applicable federal or state laws, part of a criminal sentence may include the payment of restitution to the victim or victims for their related losses. Restitution may include compensation for property damage or loss, medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost income or funeral expenses. Part of the philosophy behind criminal restitution is to give the criminal offender a direct part in making things whole with his or her victim.

Q: What is white-collar crime?

A: Historically this term referred to crimes committed by people belonging to the upper classes. Today white-collar crime refers generally to nonviolent financial crimes involving fraud or other dishonesty committed in business or commercial contexts. Examples include insider trading, embezzlement and tax evasion.

Q: How are children and youth prosecuted?

A: A minor is prosecuted for criminal conduct in a separate juvenile court system. The philosophy of the juvenile justice system is that children should not be punished or stigmatized for criminal conduct because of their immature abilities to make proper choices and recognize right from wrong. Instead the role of the juvenile justice system is seen as rehabilitative and guiding. For particularly violent crimes, adolescents may be tried in the adult system.

Q: Do I need a lawyer's help if I am accused of a crime?

A: It is always in your best interest to consult a criminal-defense lawyer as early as possible if you suspect you will be facing the criminal-justice system. Whether you believe you are innocent or guilty, an attorney will fight for your legal and constitutional rights and monitor the proceedings for legality and fairness. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for free legal counsel.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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