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Law Offices of John M. Runfola
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Law Offices of John M. Runfola
John Runfola

Pier 9, Suite 100
San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 391-4243

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Fax: (415) 391-5161


Law Offices of John M. Runfola


Providing Aggressive, Passionate, Effective Criminal Defense for 30 years

The Law Office of John Runfola has always focused exclusively on criminal defense. We provide rigorous defense representation to a wide range of clients throughout the United States and US Territories. We have a proven track record in all stages of a criminal proceedings, including pre-indictment investigations, pre-trial proceedings, jury trial and appeal. Criminal defense lawyer John Runfola

provides responsive, personalized service and possesses a depth of experience gained from handling thousands of criminal cases in both state and federal court. The office has knowledge of and access to the best investigative and expert resources necessary to aggressively challenge the actions and inactions of law enforcement, prosecutorial and judicial powers.

We are committed to providing the highest level of defense to people facing the most difficult situations of their lives. Our cases range from major drug conspiracy and white collar cases to assault and homicide prosecutions. Our goal is to inform our clients of their options and to position them as favorably as possible, even pre-indictment or arrest.

If a client is charged, we work tirelessly and aggressively on their defense, investigating government witnesses, challenging the government's allegations, excluding potentially damaging evidence, building affirmative defenses and dealing with the media when necessary. Our first effort is to prevent charges from being filed by providing favorable information regarding our clients and the situation being investigated. Above all, we work with our clients to achieve the most favorable outcome of their situation.

We are available 24 hours a day for emergencies at (415) 391-4243 and can also be reached via this web site. All consultations are completely confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege. For more information regarding our practice and how we can help you, contact contact criminal defense lawyer John Runfola today.

Our Criminal Defense Practice

We offer expertise in all federal and state criminal matters.

John M. Runfola 
San Francisco, California
phone (415) 391-4243
fax (415) 391-5161
email jrunfola@earthlink.net

John Runfola is a highly experienced and effective criminal defense attorney whose cases have drawn national and international attention. He has succeeded in winning favorable results for clients at trial and through skillful pre-trial work and negotiation.

Mr. Runfola is listed in the peer rated Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.  He has earned the highest rating from the national lawyer registry Martindale Hubbell, which for over 94 years has compiled scores based upon a confidential peer review process. Achieving an "AV" rating indicates that a lawyer is ranked at the highest level of professional excellence by members of the judiciary and practicing attorneys in his area of specialization. The rating reflects both the highest level of legal ability and very high adherence to the Professional Code of Responsibility in conduct, ethics, reliability and diligence.

Prior to starting his own practice, Mr. Runfola served as a Deputy Public Defender in San Francisco  where he gained invaluable courtroom experience. He is a seasoned trial lawyer who prides himself on being involved in developing investigation strategies, motions work and client preparation.

His cases have been the subject of numerous articles in publications including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner, and has been featured on national television newscasts and programs including "48 Hours" and "Dateline NBC."

Mr. Runfola has a deep commitment to justice, is keenly aware of the daunting task a defendant faces when accused of wrongdoing by the federal or state government and is willing to do everything in his power to aid the client in his fight. He comes from a tradition of the strongest legal advocacy and ethics, having seen his father, Joseph Runfola, achieve great success as a criminal defense lawyer and a groundbreaking president of the Erie County Bar Association in New York State.  Joseph Runfola, among other accomplishments, created a committee on sex discrimination well ahead of its time, and headed the Bar Association's Aid to Indigent Prisoners Society and its Prisoner Release Program. Like his father, John Runfola truly listens to and is a tireless advocate for his clients. Above all, he works with his clients to achieve the most favorable outcome of their situation.

Criminal Law
Mortgage Fraud
Drug Offenses
Vehicular Crimes and DUI

Please Call: 415-391-4243

Please Call: 415-391-4243

John Runfola

John M. Runfola 
San Francisco, California
phone (415) 391-4243
fax (415) 391-5161
email jrunfola@earthlink.net

John Runfola is a highly experienced and effective criminal defense attorney whose cases have drawn national and international attention. He has succeeded in winning favorable results for clients at trial and through skillful pre-trial work and negotiation.

Mr. Runfola is listed in the peer rated Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.  He has earned the highest rating from the national lawyer registry Martindale Hubbell, which for over 94 years has compiled scores based upon a confidential peer review process. Achieving an "AV" rating indicates that a lawyer is ranked at the highest level of professional excellence by members of the judiciary and practicing attorneys in his area of specialization. The rating reflects both the highest level of legal ability and very high adherence to the Professional Code of Responsibility in conduct, ethics, reliability and diligence.

Prior to starting his own practice, Mr. Runfola served as a Deputy Public Defender in San Francisco  where he gained invaluable courtroom experience. He is a seasoned trial lawyer who prides himself on being involved in developing investigation strategies, motions work and client preparation.

His cases have been the subject of numerous articles in publications including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner, and has been featured on national television newscasts and programs including "48 Hours" and "Dateline NBC."

Mr. Runfola has a deep commitment to justice, is keenly aware of the daunting task a defendant faces when accused of wrongdoing by the federal or state government and is willing to do everything in his power to aid the client in his fight. He comes from a tradition of the strongest legal advocacy and ethics, having seen his father, Joseph Runfola, achieve great success as a criminal defense lawyer and a groundbreaking president of the Erie County Bar Association in New York State.  Joseph Runfola, among other accomplishments, created a committee on sex discrimination well ahead of its time, and headed the Bar Association's Aid to Indigent Prisoners Society and its Prisoner Release Program. Like his father, John Runfola truly listens to and is a tireless advocate for his clients. Above all, he works with his clients to achieve the most favorable outcome of their situation.

Criminal Law
Mortgage Fraud
Drug Offenses
Vehicular Crimes and DUI

Practice Areas

San Francisco, California Criminal Defense Attorney

Currently Accepting California State and Federal Cases and Federal Cases Nationwide

For over 30 years, John Runfola has represented clients in virtually every type of criminal case, ranging from Federal white collar prosecutions to a high-profile prosecution involving international drug trafficking ring. While we have taken countless cases through trial, we help clients navigate the criminal justice system at every stage, beginning even before they are charged, continuing with motions and settlement negotiations, and through trial and appeal when necessary. Whether you are charged with homicide or mortgage fraud, our goal is always the same: to achieve the best possible resolution to your case through an aggressive defense.

We regularly work with experienced forensic experts, lab technicians, weapons experts, toxicologists, hand writing experts, investigators, and countless specialists when developing our clients' cases. We expose how prosecutors and investigators work, the limitations they face in terms of resources and manpower, and the shortcuts they take to try and obtain a conviction.

Protect your rights by fighting back with an experienced San Francisco criminal defense lawyer - contact the Law Offices of John Runfola today.

Committed to Defending the Rights of the Accused

We represent clients in a wide array of criminal matters, including:

Federal Offenses Weapons Charges 
Violent Crimes Drug Offenses
Juvenile Offenses Domestic Violence
Homicide White Collar Crimes
Vehicular Crimes and DUI Sexual Assault
Marijuana Cultivation and Drug Manufacturing Mortgage Fraud

Unsure Where to Turn? Contact San Francisco Criminal Defense Attorney John Runfola Today

Effective criminal defense representation can prove crucial even before you have been charged with a crime. If you have been arrested or you think you may be under investigation by federal or local law enforcement, contact us immediately. In a confidential consultation, we will listen to your story and discuss your options. If you retain us as your defense counsel, we will begin discussing and developing your options, anticipating evidentiary issues, reviewing law enforcement and prosecution theories and tactics, and scrutinizing possible personal and political issues surrounding your case. We recognize that every case comes down to an individual who needs a voice on their side when facing a criminal charge, no matter how large or small. Upon accepting a client, we vigorously prepare his or her case as if we going to trail and simultaneously attempt to negotiate a settlement that would be most favorable to our client.

Discuss your criminal matter today. Call 415-391-4243.

Violent Crimes

San Francisco Violent Crimes Attorney

Assault Defense Lawyer

John Runfola meticulously reviews law enforcement reports, eyewitness testimony and the actions of officers and investigators in criminal investigations of violent crimes- together with the facts our clients provide. Since police and investigators do not always have the manpower or resources to track down alternative suspects or find every pertinent eyewitness, the prosecution's evidence can be incomplete in important and alarming ways. Criminal defense lawyer, John Runfola exposes inadequate investigative work and prosecution tactics that may lead to criminal charges based largely on speculation.

If you have been charged with murder, assault, battery, domestic violence, rape or another violent crime, do not talk to law enforcement or prosecutors before you speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of John Runfola today. Our consultations are completely confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege. We will evaluate the evidence and factors involved and determine how best to defend against charges of assault or other violent crimes.

Rigorous Defense Against Assault Charges and Other Violent Crimes

We have an extensive and successful track record in representing clients accused of violent crimes, including the following:

Building Your Defense - Protecting Your Freedom

We mount an aggressive defense long before a case ever reaches trial. We conduct a thorough investigation of all witnesses and "victims," often identifying and interviewing potentially critical defense witnesses before law enforcement or prosecuting authorities gain access to them. Thorough, independent investigations can often mean the difference between freedom and prison.

We are experienced in finding key alibi witnesses, investigating claims of eyewitnesses for the prosecution and pulling together evidence for defense arguments that could result in exoneration. Mr. Runfola is highly skilled in the courtroom, having participated in endless evidentiary hearings and trials. He understands the psychology of juries and the nuances of evidentiary battles. He has the skills necessary to effectively question witnesses and knows what it takes to win.

Contact Violent Crimes Criminal Defense Attorney John Runfola

It is hard to overstate the significance of vigorous representation in a case involving assault or other violent crime - especially as courts have limited the basis for many criminal appeals. Our aim is to keep you from needing an appeal. Upon accepting a client, we vigorously prepare his or her case as if we going to trail and simultaneously attempt to negotiate a settlement that would be most favorable to our client. For more information regarding our practice and how we can help you fight the charges you're facing, contact criminal defense lawyer John Runfola today.

Discuss your criminal matter today. Call 415-391-4243.

Vehicular Crimes and DUI

While often not a high-profile crime, being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have a significant impact on a person's life and or livelihood, particularly in the tragic event of an injury or fatality. We have extensive experience with DUI's and vehicular crimes and approach them vigorously. We understand that this experience is very upsetting for the individual involved. We will help you understand the consequences of a possible conviction, which typically range from a fine to the suspension or revocation of your license. In more serious cases, aggressive representation is even more critical. If you have been arrested in connection with an accident that resulted in grave injury or death, a DUI arrest may result in prosecution for aggravated assault, negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter or even murder. It is important to begin to work on your defense as soon as possible after your arrest.

As with any criminal matter, cases related to driving under the influence require thoughtful consideration at every stage. We understand the particular stresses associated with this type of case, which can be a jarring introduction to the criminal justice system. We can explain your options and help you craft an effective defense. We can also fight the DMV ramifications that you will face as a result of your arrest.

You can call us for a consultation, 24 hours a day, at 415-391-4243.

Criminal FAQs

Criminal Defense

Wouldn't longer sentences mean less overall crime?

Sentence length may or may not correlate with a decrease in crime. Criminal punishment has four basic goals: rehabilitate the offender; restrain the offender from committing further crimes; exact revenge against the offender; and deterring the offender and the general public from criminal behavior. It is unclear if longer sentences actually convince a particular offender not to commit another crime. However, recidivism rates are high, thereby suggesting that the average offender does not "learn his lesson" in prison and refrain from further criminal activity. One thing that does correlate positively with a reduction in criminal activity is increasing age; people under the age of thirty-five years commit most crimes. Therefore, it could be argued that sentences that keep offenders in prison until middle age will reduce overall crime rates.

In addition, more time in prison could allow for more complete rehabilitation because the offender could stay in treatment programs for a longer period of time. Batterers are more likely to change the controlling behavior that leads to domestic abuse if they participate in long-term intensive educational programs. Sex offenders may benefit from multi-level treatment plans spread out over a period of time. In prisons with educational programs, offenders who stay long enough may receive high school or college degrees or learn a trade, which will equip them to lead a productive, law-abiding life. However, some states do not provide adequate resources for these rehabilitation programs.

Longer sentences do not appear to deter the general public from criminal activity. Many times, it is the likelihood of getting caught that deters a person from criminal activity, not the length of the sentence. Many crimes are committed on impulse, and the threat of a lengthy sentence does not even enter the offender's mind.

Finally, the cost of longer sentences in terms of tax dollars is very high. If sentences are lengthened, new prisons and jails will need to be built to accommodate offenders who would be incarcerated under sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences.

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Is there a way to punish a criminal before he actually commits the crime he is planning?

In some circumstances a "crime" can be punished before it occurs. Many jurisdictions have either a general "attempt" crime or individual statutes that make attempted murder or attempted robbery, or the like, a crime. The purpose of these statutes is to punish an individual who has shown himself or herself to be dangerously inclined to commit a crime without waiting until the criminal act is actually completed. In order to convict a person for an attempted crime, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person had the intent to commit an act or bring about certain consequences that would amount to a crime, and that he or she took some step beyond mere preparation toward that goal.

Whether the offender has the intent necessary to be convicted of attempt depends on the mental state required by the underlying crime. If a person's actual intention at the time he or she attacked the victim was to cause bodily harm, he or she cannot be convicted of attempted murder if the victim does not die. (However, he could be convicted of the actual crime of murder if the victim died, even if his intention was only to cause bodily harm.) Likewise, a person whose plan to steal fails can be convicted of attempted theft, which requires the intention to deprive another of his or her property permanently, only if he or she had the same intention at the time the crime was attempted.

Like most crimes, attempt requires a "bad act" as well as a bad intention. Therefore, the government must prove the offender engaged in conduct that moved toward committing the crime. The exact nature of the act needed to meet this "preparation" requirement varies from case to case, depending on individual facts. For example, a person who checked in at the ticket counter of an airport and sat in the waiting area with a gun in his pocket could be convicted of the crime of attempting to board an airplane with a gun. A person who planned to rob a bank messenger and drove around looking for him on his regular route, but did not find him, and did nothing else would not necessarily be guilty of attempted robbery.

The punishment for the crime of attempt can be the same as the punishment for the completed crime. However, most jurisdictions make some distinction and provide for a lesser punishment for attempt. For instance, some states provide that the punishment for attempted first-degree theft will be the same as the crime of second-degree theft. The Model Penal Code, which is a source of many states' criminal statutes, generally requires the same punishment for attempt as the punishment for the underlying crime on the rationale that a person who attempts a crime has shown himself to be just as much in need of corrective sanctions as the one who actually completes a crime.

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Are all illegal drugs treated equally when it comes to punishing drug dealers?

No, the punishment for drug crimes depends not only on the criminal conduct of the offender but also on the classification of the drug. Federal sentencing guidelines begin with forty-three base offense levels and add or subtract levels depending on certain specified criteria. The higher the offense level, the harsher the sentence.

The base offense level under the federal guidelines differs for different drugs and for different amounts of the same drug. For instance, if the conviction is for the crime of manufacturing 300 kilograms of heroin, the base offense level is forty-two. However, if the conviction is for manufacturing 300 kilograms of cocaine, the base offense level is thirty-eight. Crack is a form of cocaine and listed on the same schedule of controlled substances. However, the quantities of crack needed to impose a certain sentence are much less than the quantity of powdered cocaine. For example, a person convicted of the crime of delivering 5 grams of crack will receive a sentence in the federal system of five to forty years. To receive that same sentence, a person would have to be convicted of delivering 500 grams of powdered cocaine.

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Can a person be guilty of drunk driving if he only had one drink?

The crime of drunk driving is generally defined in two ways: (1) having a blood alcohol content above the limit set by law, or (2) driving under the influence of alcohol. To find a person guilty under the first definition, a jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person's blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeded a certain amount. In most states the legal limit is .08 (or 8 percent). Therefore, if it is proven that the person's BAC at the time of the incident was .08 or greater, he or she can be convicted of drunk driving, regardless of how much alcohol was actually consumed.

In contrast, the second definition does not refer to any particular BAC; it focuses on the driving behavior of the person. If the person’s driving is impaired by the consumption of alcohol, he or she can be found guilty of drunk driving. Instead of presenting evidence of the BAC to a jury, the prosecution seeking a conviction under this definition generally presents testimony about the person's driving and consumption of alcohol. A police officer will often describe the impaired driving that lead him to pull the person over and the person's ability (or lack thereof) to perform field sobriety tests, such as walking a straight line. Evidence is also usually presented concerning the person's consumption of alcohol. If the jury then concludes that the prosecution has met its burden of proof, it will convict the person of drunk driving. A susceptible person may exhibit impaired driving after one drink and therefore be convicted of drunk driving.

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What is the role of the federal government in criminal law?

Crime has long been considered the concern of state government. States are authorized to protect their citizens from criminal activity by prosecuting criminals. States are also authorized to determine what constitutes a crime statutorily (through the legislature) and through common law. The federal government, on the other hand, has limited jurisdiction and must link any crimes it prosecutes to its powers under the Constitution. The most commonly used powers to support federal criminal legislation are the commerce power, the taxing power, and the postal power. While Congress has used these powers all along to define crimes, there has been an explosion of federally created crimes in the last half of the 20th century. Most of the laws controlling white-collar crime, like the RICO Act and the Victims and Witnesses Protection Act have been passed since 1950.

In addition, Congress has become increasingly involved in the "war on drugs" with the creation of various drug statutes. Due to the severity of the penalties, often, local prosecutors prefer to have drug charges prosecuted in federal court rather than file state charges. Most federal laws have as their rationale that the particular crime addressed needs a uniform response nationwide, and due to the nature of drug crimes (particularly distribution), it is difficult to prosecute drug crimes on a state-by-state basis.

Examples of successful federal criminal legislation are the federal gun laws and federal computer laws. The federal gun laws provide uniformity and the federal computer laws make it possible to punish Internet crime.

The U.S. Constitution has always played a role in criminal law because it defines important individual rights that must be preserved even in a state prosecution involving a state crime. The Constitution guarantees a right to a trial by jury in open court, the right to cross-examine witnesses, the right to remain silent (on grounds of self-incrimination), the presumption of innocence, the right to be represented by a lawyer, and the right to be free of cruel or unusual punishment. States are required to pay for attorneys for indigent offenders, and federal agencies provide oversight to state prisons to ensure compliance with these constitutional requirements.

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Are grand jury proceedings secret?

Most courts have rules that prohibit disclosure of grand jury proceedings. The rules typically apply to the government attorneys, the grand jury members, and the court personnel. Violators of the rules can be held in contempt of court if a case against them is proven. However, proving that the leaked information came out of the grand jury proceeding and identifying exactly who made the prohibited disclosure is difficult in most cases.

Another challenge to keeping the proceedings secret arises because the prohibition against disclosure often does not apply to a person subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Witnesses are free to discuss their testimony with the media or with anyone else, unless the judge expressly orders them not to.

Persons who are the subject of a grand jury proceeding are not entitled to any notice regarding the scope of the investigation or the nature of the incidents under consideration. They are generally not allowed to have an attorney present with them in the grand jury room, but may be permitted to leave from time to time to consult with an attorney outside the grand jury room.

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Are there special crimes to control children's behavior?

While there is a special court system to handle juvenile crime, there is usually not a special juvenile criminal code. Adult criminal codes are applied in the juvenile system, but the children are not generally accused of crimes. Instead, they are accused of committing delinquent acts. Sentences are designed to educate and rehabilitate children, rather than punish them. Children cannot be locked up in adult jails except for very limited periods of time. A child held in an adult jail must be out of sight and sound contact with the adult inmates.

In earlier days, special crimes that only applied to children did exist. These crimes were the so-called status offenses and punished behavior that would not be criminal if committed by an adult. Status offenses included running away from home, skipping school, disobeying parents, and breaking curfew. The federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act made receipt of federal funds conditioned on eliminating status offenses, and most states have repealed any status offenses. However, these behaviors may still trigger an investigation by child protective services to determine if the child needs assistance from the court or social service agencies.

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What is the difference between probation and parole?

Probation is a criminal sentence; parole is one way of completing a criminal sentence of incarceration. In most jurisdictions, first-time offenders are considered for probation, particularly if their offense was nonviolent. A person placed on probation is typically given a jail or prison sentence that is suspended as long as the person abides by the terms and conditions of probation. Common terms require the person to contact a probation officer once a week and to work, go to school, or look for work. Other terms can include required attendance at alcohol treatment or narcotic-abuse programs and educational classes on such subjects as anger management or good driving. The length of probation and its terms are enumerated at the sentencing and once the person has completed the terms of probation, he or she is free of court supervision.

Typically, an offender has been sentenced to an indeterminate or range of years in prison. After the offender has served the minimum amount of time authorized, the parole board decides if the offender is ready to be released from incarceration to finish out the sentence on parole. Parole boards consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, the views of the victim, the progress the offender made in prison, how crowded the prison is, and whether the offender has a someplace to go in the community. If parole is granted, the offender will have to abide by terms and conditions similar to those for probation for a specified period of time. If he or she completes the parole period, the criminal sentence is discharged.

Both probation and parole can be revoked if the offender commits another crime or seriously violates one of the conditions of release. The revocation proceeding requires written notice to the offender, an opportunity to explain and call witnesses, an impartial decision-maker, and a written decision stating the reasons for revocation. If parole is revoked, the parolee goes back to prison and serves the remainder of his or her sentence in jail or prison.

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How does a district attorney decide which criminals to charge?

A district attorney or prosecutor has the discretion to decide which crimes should be charged. In a typical case, the police investigate a crime and send a report to the prosecutor. The prosecutor then must decide whether to bring criminal charges against the subject of the investigation. First, the prosecutor analyzes the case to determine if it is legally sound. The case must not have any obvious defects that will get it thrown out of court, such as violation of the defendant's constitutional rights or destruction of evidence crucial to the defense. Next, the prosecutor decides if there is adequate and reliable evidence of the person's guilt. The prosecutor must determine that the amount of evidence, and the quality of evidence, makes conviction probable. If offering a plea, such as an agreement by the defendant to undergo drug treatment in return for a suspended sentence, is appropriate, the prosecutor may prefer to dispose of the case in this manner. Additional factors which may influence the prosecutor’s decision include the defendant's culpability, which may be lacking because he or she acted out of a worthy motive or has mental defects. Finally the prosecutor must decide if he has the resources to pursue the case or if it is a low priority for that particular office.

Many prosecutors are elected officials and as such can be voted out of office if the public does not like the emphasis of their office. Some prosecutors, for instance, may focus most of their efforts and the office's resources combating property crime, while others may focus on domestic abuse. If the electorate does not like the particular goals of the prosecutor, it can end the practice by failing to reelect the individual or by seeking to have them removed from office.

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What is the difference between rape and sexual assault?

Rape is often used as a generic term for unwanted sexual acts. However, historically its common-law definition required the sexual act to be intercourse, the rapist to be a man, and the victim to be a woman, other than his wife. Furthermore, the act had to be committed as a result of force or the threat of force. Common-law rules often required the rape to be corroborated by independent witnesses to negate the offender's defense of consent.

Many modern-day penal codes no longer use the term "rape", but instead use sexual abuse or sexual assault to define the prohibited acts. Rape is covered by these statutes and may be designated as sexual abuse in the first degree. However, most sexual assault statutes cover intercourse as well as other sexual acts and apply to homosexuals as well as heterosexuals. Generally, husbands can be charged with sexual assault of their wives, although they may receive a lighter sentence than non-marital sexual assault. Lesser offenses, such as unwanted touching or lascivious acts may be included in the definition of sexual assault.

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Learn More: Criminal Law

Our criminal law has its roots in medieval England. Under early common law, criminal behavior was considered a breach of the King's peace, and therefore, considered harmful to society in general, which required governmental action. Only the major felonies, such as treason, rape, larceny, battery, kidnapping, murder, and arson were prosecuted and the only sentence was death. Today, criminal law is a vast and complex body of statutes, rules, and judicial decisions that touch nearly every aspect of our lives. State, federal, and municipal criminal codes have divided the old common-law felonies into many separate crimes and now provide an array of sentencing options. In addition, new crimes have been defined addressing drugs, automobiles, businesses, organized crime, computers and other modern situations.

A crime must be clearly defined in order to pass scrutiny under the federal Constitution, which prohibits the government from taking a person's life, liberty, or property without due process of law. A vague description of the crime or a lack of specific elements or intent needed for committing the crime leaves a person without knowledge of exactly what is prohibited. In order to be a crime, the prohibited conduct must include both a "mens rea" or intent and an "actus reus" or bad act. Accidentally hitting somebody when you draw back the baseball bat to swing at a ball is not a crime because it lacks required intent. Wishing someone would drop dead is not a crime because it lacks the bad act. Examples of crimes and topics of interest in criminal law include:

Drug violations are criminalized in both federal and state criminal justice codes, which typically list controlled substances, which are prohibited under any circumstances or may not be used except under a doctor's care. When a person uses one of these substances in violation of a criminal statute, he or she has committed a crime.

DWI/DUI means "driving while intoxicated" or "driving while under the influence" and refers to the crime of drunk driving. This crime usually includes driving while using drugs or alcohol and operating a car or other kind of motorized vehicle, such as a motorcycle or boat. Drunk driving is defined by each state's criminal code.

Federal jurisdiction refers to authority of a federal court to hear cases involving crimes charged under federal law. Crime has traditionally been the domain of individual states, but Congress is authorized through its powers under the commerce, postal, and taxing clauses in the Constitution to make criminal laws covering those areas. While a person can be prosecuted for the same incident under state and federal law, most often the choice of whether to bring an action in state or federal court is based upon resources available to investigate and prosecute the crime and on sentencing options.

Felonies are crimes punishable by over one year in prison. Most felonies are also punishable by a fine, but the critical determination for considering a crime a felony is the prison sentence.

Fraud is not a separate crime, but is an important part of property crimes such as embezzlement and false pretenses. The lawbreaker must knowingly and intentionally deceive the victim in some manner for the fraud element to be satisfied.

Grand jury proceedings are a method used by prosecutors to bring criminal charges against a criminal suspect. A prosecutor will often convene a grand jury when investigating complicated criminal matters.

Juvenile crimes are typically called delinquent acts and handled in the juvenile court system. The major purpose of the juvenile system is to rehabilitate the offender, and many sentences require counseling or other family intervention. Juvenile court jurisdiction typically ends when a person turns eighteen.

Misdemeanors are crimes with a punishment of less than one year in prison. Many crimes, such as theft, have degrees of seriousness with the most serious being felonies and the less serious being misdemeanors. Often, procedures used in misdemeanor prosecutions are abbreviated and in some cases, do not require a trial.

Parole and probation are used in the sentencing phase of the criminal-justice system. Parole refers to the condition of supervised release that occurs after an offender has spent time in prison. Probation is a sentence imposed instead of prison and is usually subject to terms and conditions designed to make the offender a law-abiding citizen.

Prosecution refers to the government's case against the lawbreaker. A prosecutor - the lawyer presenting the government's case - has complete discretion to decide whether to bring a charge against an alleged offender and must prove all charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

RICO refers to the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act passed in 1970 as part of a larger organized crime bill. The purpose of the act is to combat the infiltration of organized crime into legitimate businesses, but also it has been used to prosecute individuals other than just those associated with organized crime.

Sex offenses include much more than the common-law crime of rape, which historically was limited to unlawful sexual intercourse by a man against a woman through the use of force or the immediate threat of force. Most states prohibit lesser invasions, such as unwanted touching, as well as prosecution of spouses for sexual assault. In addition, sex offenses include crimes that are defined based on the status of the victim, such as a child or therapy patient.

Traffic violations may be crimes or may be classified as infractions, which are generally not considered part of the criminal law. In jurisdictions where they are crimes, they are typically considered the lowest level of misdemeanor and are only punished by a fine. However, some traffic violations can rise to the level of more serious crimes, such as vehicular homicide or leaving the scene of an accident.

Victims' rights refers to a body of emerging law that focuses on the needs and concerns of crime victims. Victims now have rights, for example, to information about the prosecution of the crime committed against them, to receive counseling and compensation, and to participate in the sentencing process.

White collar crimes refer to the group of property crimes typically committed to gain a business or professional advantage. White collar crimes include mail fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud, embezzlement, tax crimes, and environmental pollution.

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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 counsel for advice on any legal matter.


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