Category: Criminal Law

What is a federal grand jury investigation?

Grand Jury: Impaneled, Investigation, and Indictment You probably read in the news that a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, impaneled a grand jury as part of an investigation into interference by a foreign power (Russia) in the US elections and whether members of Trump’s administration and family violated the law.  You probably also read that the grand jury might indict people suspected of crimes. Impanel When a grand jury is impaneled, it just means that the grand jury is formed.  The special prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, formed the grand jury to assist in his investigation.  Grand jury proceedings are not public....

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What is the felony murder rule?

Just to cover some definitions: a felony is a serious crime usually punishable by more than one year in prison.  Murder is the intentional killing of another human being without justification. The felony murder rule provides that someone may be guilty of murder under two circumstances where he would otherwise not be guilty of murder: 1. If a person kills someone while committing a violent felony. 2. If a person participates with someone else to commit a violent felony and someone is killed as a result of the crime. For example, let’s say David commits the serious and violent crime of armed robbery.  He accidentally shoots the victim and kills him.  Normally, killing someone by accident is not murder.  However, the felony murder rule would provide that David is guilty of murder because he killed the victim while committing  the violent felony. Now let’s say Davida is assisting David with the armed robbery by acting as a lookout.  She didn’t pull the trigger to kill the victim but may also be guilty of murder because she was a participant in the crime. Keep in mind that different states have different versions of the felony murder rule and federal law has its own definition.  A few states do not have the felony murder...

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When do juries determine guilt in criminal cases? When do judges?

A student studying in the Netherlands asked about jury trials in criminal cases. If you watch US television shows and movies you’ll invariably see juries deciding criminal cases.   That makes sense both for entertainment and for purposes of understanding US law.  In criminal cases, Article III  and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantee the right to a jury trial. However, the right only applies to serious crimes. As a general rule, if a defendant can be sentenced to more than six months, the defendant can demand a jury trial. If you wish to dispute a parking ticket in the United States, the Constitution will not guarantee you a jury trial but certain states allow for jury trials for less serious cases.  In other words, the Constitution of the United States might not require a jury trial in all cases, but states can establish their own rules for less serious...

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