Criminal Law ABCs

Learn the basics of criminal law.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is the body of law that defines criminal offenses, regulates the apprehension, charging, and trial of suspected persons, and fixes penalties and modes of treatment applicable to convicted offenders.


Your Constitutional Rights

  • 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure;
  • 5th Amendment rights to remain silent, to due process, and ban on double jeopardy;
  • 6th Amendment rights to a speedy public trial, to an impartial jury, to notice of the charges, to confront witnesses, and to be represented by an attorney.*

*there is no right to jury trial in infraction cases.


Criminal Defense Strategies

Attack the Validity of the Charges

A technical defect can weaken the prosecution’s case and sometimes results in dismissal. Examples include illegal searches and interrogations, mis-calibrated equipment, police misconduct, and destruction of exculpatory evidence.

Make a Plea Deal

Typically the prosecution will offer a plea deal to resolve a criminal case. Under the terms of a plea deal, the defendant waives the right to trial and pleads guilty, no contest, or agrees to complete a pre-plea diversion.

Prepare for Trial

If the defendant does not enter into a plea deal with the prosecutor, and the case is not dismissed on procedural grounds, the judge usually sets a trial date. The defendant has a constitutional right to a trial and cannot be punished for exercising this right. However, due to the risks and costs of trial, most criminal cases are resolved with a plea deal.


Due Process Rights

The defendant is innocent until:

  • Proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; OR
  • Pleads guilty or no contest.

In addition, the defendant has the following rights:


1. Right to a Court or Jury Trial that is speedy and public. You have the right to 12 impartial jurors chosen from the community.
2. Right to an Attorney of your choice to represent you in misdemeanor and felony criminal proceedings. If you cannot afford an attorney, the Court will appoint an attorney to represent you at little or no cost.
3. Right to Confront and Cross-examine Witnesses. The prosecution must bring witnesses to court to testify under oath.
4. Right to Remain Silent and not testify in court. Your silence cannot be used as evidence against you.
5. Right to Produce Evidence and Present a Defense. You have the right to subpoena witnesses and to testify under oath.


criminal law

How to Select a Criminal Law Attorney

Finding a hard-working, trustworthy criminal law attorney can be difficult. The best idea is to select a lawyer whose legal knowledge, effort, communication, and ability to work with others are the best fit for accomplishing your goals.


Charges and Maximum Penalties

In general, the maximum punishment for a felony is 16 months, or two or three years in state prison. The maximum punishment for a misdemeanor is six months in county jail and/or $1,000 fine.

*Many misdemeanors and felonies have greater punishments.

Additional Punishments

DUI, domestic violence, and other charges have additional penalties, including classes, fees, and probation.

Court Orders

A judge can also issue personal conduct orders, including orders to stay away from certain people or places (restraining order). A judge can order that you abstain from alcohol, attend AA meetings, or get counseling for anger management.

The Law Office of Russell Brown is licensed to practice criminal law in California.