In contrast to civil actions, which generally involve private disputes over monetary or property damages, criminal proceedings are conducted by federal, state, and local governments, through a prosecuting attorney, against an individual who is alleged to have committed a crime. In criminal proceedings, an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the government must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Oklahoma law provides the following definition of a crime:
A crime or public offense is an act or omission forbidden by law, and to which is annexed, upon conviction, one or more of the following punishments:
- Removal from office; or
- Disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit, under this State.
The Oklahoma Statutes sets forth the legal elements of each crime and the range of punishments. Crimes are classified as felonies or misdemeanors. Felonies are serious offenses which are punishable by death or imprisonment in the penitentiary. Felonies include crimes such as murder, rape, and kidnapping. Misdemeanors are considered less serious offenses warranting less severe punishment; however, misdemeanors do range from crimes such as negligent homicide to simple traffic citations. Conviction of a misdemeanor may result in incarceration in the county jail, fines, or both. Most crimes involve the element of an act, known as actus reus, and the element of a mental state, known as mens rea. In order to convict a defendant, prosecutors must prove each element of a crime.
All criminal defendants have the right to challenge the government’s allegations through applicable legal proceedings. Moreover, most defendants have the right to a jury trial. Felonies generally take more time to resolve than misdemeanors, as additional procedural safeguards are in place such as the right to a preliminary hearing. Under certain circumstances, a defendant may enter into a plea agreement with the state in order to avoid a trial and the potential of harsher punishment. Additionally, in some cases, an individual may have the right for an expungement or to have the record of past crimes sealed from the public after the passage of time and consideration of other factors.
At Logan & Lowry, LLP, we assist clients with felonies, misdemeanors, and expungements. Contact us to learn more.