Bellizia Law Office
Fax: 973-743-2290 email@example.com
Asbury Park Office Address
501 Grand Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ 07712
Bloomfield Office Address
395 Franklin St
Bloomfield, NJ 07003
Criminal law, the branch of law that defines crimes, treats of their nature, and provides for their punishment. A crime is a wrong for which the wrongdoer is prosecuted by the state for the purpose of punishment.
In New Jersey, crimes are usually classified as "indictable" (felonies) or "disorderly person's offenses" (misdemeanors). The fundamental distinction between indictable and disorderly person's offenses rest with the penalty and the power of imprisonment. In general, a disorderly person's offense is an offense for which a punishment other than death or imprisonment in the state prison is prescribed by law. The term “degree of crime” refers to distinctions in the culpability of an offense because of the circumstances surrounding its commission.
In general, crimes must be defined in a penal statute with appropriate certainty and definiteness; the constitutional requirement of due process of law is violated by a criminal statute that fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that the contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute.
Except as otherwise provided by statute, to constitute a crime an overt act (actus reus) must be accompanied by a criminal intent (mens rea) or by such negligence as is regarded by law as equivalent to a criminal intent. Motive, or that which leads or tempts the mind to indulge in a criminal act, as distinguished from intent, is neither a crime nor an essential element of a crime. The motive with which an offense was committed is immaterial. Proof of motive may be material in proving that the defendant committed a particular crime, but it is not essential to a conviction.
Every accused has the right to any and all defenses the law recognizes and permits—e.g., insanity, mistake of fact, or self-defense. An accused having the right to resort to several defenses may make an election as to the one on which he or she will rely. The fact that one undertakes a crime on the advice, or as the agent, of another is not a defense; on the other hand, except in the case of homicide, an act that would otherwise constitute a crime may be excused when committed under duress or compulsion that is present, imminent, and impending, and that produces a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm if the act is not done (see coercion). Religious belief is not ordinarily a justification or excuse for the commission of a crime (see bigamy).
The procedure in criminal cases is substantially the same throughout the United States. The person suspected of crime is taken into custody by a police officer, sometimes by service of a warrant of arrest. If the crime is serious, the case is first presented to a grand jury, which draws up an indictment if there is sufficient evidence to justify trial; otherwise it discharges the accused. While action is pending, the party charged may be released on bail. Trial is by jury or before a judge alone if a jury is not required, or if the defendant consents. The government presents its case (i.e., attempts to prove the allegations of the indictment), through the public prosecutor, usually called the district attorney, while the accused is represented by counsel that he or she has chosen or that the court has appointed. The legal presumption of innocence puts the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on the prosecution, unless, of course, the defendant pleads guilty to the charge. Special rules restricting the introduction of evidence in criminal trials further protect the defendant. If the accused is found or adjudged innocent, he or she is discharged; if the accused is found guilty, the judge pronounces sentence. (For types of criminal penalties, see capital punishment; corporal punishment; prison.) If the defendant is convicted, an appeal may be filed; the prosecution, however, cannot appeal an acquittal. Generally speaking, this procedure is confined to felonies; misdemeanors, being relatively less serious offenses, are handled in a more summary fashion. It is generally accepted that no court will enforce the criminal law of another jurisdiction, but by means of extradition a fugitive from justice may be delivered to the competent authorities.
Williams Criminal Law (2d ed. 1961); W. J. Chambliss, ed., Crime and the Legal Process (1969); S. H. Kadish, Criminal Law and Its Processes (1969).