December 1, 2020
The Elements of a Crime and Criminal Process
We often discuss the specific crimes Pennsylvanians may be accused of and need legal representation for. While the makeup of each crime is different, in the United States, there are certain elements of a crime that need to be met in order to be found criminally liable. To understand the fundamentals of the criminal code, it is important to know the elements of a crime as well as the criminal process in Pennsylvania.
Elements of a Crime
Under the federal code, an individual commits a crime if he or she acts in a way that fulfills each element of that specific offense. Though crimes vary in nature, there are three elements to most every criminal offense. The elements of a crime are:
- The act/conduct (“actus reus”)
- The individual’s mental state at the time of the act (“mens rea”)
- The causation between the act and the effect (either “proximate causation” or “but-for causation”)
There are additional elements of crimes that can play into the charges, specifically on a federal level for charges like murder, manslaughter, etc. However, in the very basic form, each crime will have the above three elements.
Criminal Process in Pennsylvania
Knowing that a crime must include the elements of an act, mental state, and effect, it is now necessary to know what will happen should the courts find you liable under those circumstances.
In Pennsylvania, the criminal process includes:
- Criminal Complaint: The first aspect of the criminal process is the officer filing a criminal complaint against the offender. The complaint will identify the charges and a summary describing the incident.
- Warrants: A warrant instructs police to arrest the defendant. This may also be issued if the defendant does not attend the court hearing.
- Preliminary Arraignment/Hearing: The defendant will appear before a judge, be notified of the charges against him or her, and be advised on his or her rights. Once formally charged, bail will be determined if the defendant qualifies. Once the arraignment and bail have been established, the prosecution must show evidence that a crime has been committed by the defendant. This will determine if the case goes to trial or is dismissed.
- Plea Bargaining: Both sides will meet to determine if a fair plea can be established. This will be used to seek a lesser penalty.
- Formal Arraignment: At the formal arraignment, the defendant will plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case goes to trial.
- Trial: During the trial, the jury will listen to the evidence and the arguments on both sides to determine guilt or innocence.
The criminal process is important to know, especially for first-time offenders. You may qualify for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program where instead of a prison sentence, you would be under supervision and then have your record cleared.
The criminal process in Pennsylvania can be complicated and frightening which is why you need a Northeast Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with experience.
Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano NEPA Criminal Defense
When you are subject to the criminal process in Pennsylvania, no matter how minor or serious your charge might seem, you must contact our law firm as soon as possible. A delay in contacting us may hurt your case. Contact the Scranton criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano today for a free consultation. Remember if this is your first offense, there may be ways to prevent you from having a criminal record.