What is Criminal Defense Law?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 26 January 2020
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Criminal defense law is the field of law that involves defending those clients accused of criminal breaches. There are two main branches of law: civil and criminal. Criminal law is the field of law in which the government prosecutes a defendant for breaching common law or legislative rules. Criminal defense law involves defending those clients.

Criminal defense law is distinct from civil defense law. In civil law, individual parties sue each other, and the penalties are usually monetary. These actions are often called torts. When an individual party sues another individual person, the defendant in the case cannot be subject to jail time and the standards of proof are less stringent than in criminal law.

In criminal law, the government itself brings legal action against someone for violating legal rules. The person bringing the action is called the prosecutor, and they have a sworn duty to only prosecute crimes when there is reason to believe a law was broken. Potential penalties range from monetary fines to loss of liberty, or even the loss of life.


Within the U.S., the constitution guarantees that "no person be deprived of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness without due process of law." Part of due process of law involves the right to criminal defense. Under the fourth amendment of the constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the famous "Miranda" case, defendants within the U.S. are entitled to a criminal defense lawyer to help them defend their case.

Criminal defense law, therefore, involves defending those accused of a crime in a court of law. Criminal defense lawyers may help clients to negotiate plea agreements, or deals to negate the severity of the criminal sanctions imposed upon them. They may also argue a case in a court of law to assert that the indictment is untrue or invalid.

Criminal defense law encompasses two major types of defenses for those accused of a crime. The first type of defense simply involves proving that the defendant did not violate the law as accused. Within the U.S., the defense only has to prove that there is some doubt about whether the person committed the crime, since the Constitution mandates that the accused only be found guilty if the prosecution proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Affirmative defenses are the other type of defense involved in criminal defense law. An affirmative defense is a defense that states that the person did commit the crime, but that it was justified. Self defense and defense of others are two common affirmative defenses used in criminal defense law.


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