What Is a Criminal Offense?
A criminal offense is an act that violates federal, state or municipal law. Each jurisdiction has its own laws that define the crimes, classify them as felonies or misdemeanors, and set the maximum sentence. Penalties usually include jail/prison time, a fine and probation, but some convictions also result in the loss of a driver’s license, professional license, or government benefits.
Most crimes require both an act and a particular mental state. Most crimes require the State to prove the defendant intended his or her actions (so accidentally hitting someone wouldn’t be an assault), but some crimes only require recklessness–disregarding a substantial risk of danger to others.
Some crimes don’t require either mental state. For example, if you’re caught driving with a BAC over the legal limit, you can be convicted of “per se” DUI, whether or not you knew you were impaired.
An experienced Nashville criminal attorney can explain the specific mental state the government must prove in your case.
Felonies and Misdemeanors
Misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail, while felonies carry maximum sentences of more than a year. Some crimes can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the case. For example, shoplifting a candy bar is a misdemeanor, but stealing property worth over $500 is a felony.
A felony conviction also means the loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote and the right to possess firearms, and can affect your ability to obtain employment or housing.
An experienced Nashville criminal defense attorney will help you understand what the State has to prove, the penalties if convicted, and whether a trial or a plea bargain is in your best interest.
Federal or State Jurisdiction
Federal courts have jurisdiction over offenses defined by federal law or that take place on federal land, such as national parks and military bases. Drug offenses can be prosecuted in either state court or federal court. Since sentences for drug offenses are more severe under federal law, often with long mandatory minimums, a Nashville criminal attorney with both state and federal court experience could give you the best chance for a favorable outcome.
Contact a Nashville Criminal Attorney
It isn’t enough to just read the criminal law you’re charged with violating. You need an experienced Nashville criminal defense lawyer familiar with recent changes in the law, state and federal court decisions that affect your case, and any available defenses.
If you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime, call Horst Law at to schedule a free consultation.