The earth has revolved 7 times and that means that it is time for another edition of the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme. If you are unfamiliar with CFA, it is a challenge run by Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise, so head on there and sign up, or click on some links and read what others have to say. This is my second time at this carnival, and I have chosen to focus on topics related to crime fiction rather than books and/or authors. But first, a message:Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this blog post is not intended in any way to be legal advice. It is merely my understanding of certain legal terms and procedures that may be helpful to the crime fiction writer (or reader).
With that out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s topic – which it so happens, is a twofer
C is for Corpus Delicti/Criminal Procedure
Corpus Delicti (meaning “body of the crime”) is a latin term that signifies the need to establish that a crime has occurred before a person can be convicted of that crime. As Perry Mason was fond of saying in many of his cases involving murder: “Corpus Delicti does not literally mean that there needs to be a body, it just means that there needs to be enough evidence to establish that a crime has been committed.” For example, maybe a witness saw the murder being committed but the victim’s body cannot be found, there is still enough evidence (assuming a reliable witness) to establish that a crime has occurred. Together with Actus Reus (guilty act) and Mens Rea (guilty mind), Corpus Delicti establishes the important details of prosecuting a criminal act – i.e., there must be a criminal act, the accused’s conduct must have resulted in the crime, and in certain cases, this conduct must have been intentional.
So what happens when a crime is committed and someone is accused?
- The suspect or suspects are arrested.
- Once arrested and booked into county jail, the suspect is presented before a magistrate or municipal judge for a preliminary arraignment. At the arraignment, bail is set, and the suspects are advised of their constitutional rights and the charges against them.
- A preliminary hearing is scheduled in a week to ten days, where a judge establishes that there is a prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed and that there is reasonable grounds to believe that the suspect committed the crime. The suspect enters their plea at this hearing.
- In some states (in the United States that is), a Grand Jury convenes to examine the evidence and decide whether the case against the suspect should proceed.
- Trial, Verdict and Sentencing.
- If found guilty, Probation or Incarceration .
- If incarcerated, Parole
That concludes an extremely abridged version of criminal procedure in the United States. Of course, there are any number of variations on this theme, and differences depending on which state you are in. The procedures and steps also vary considerably in another country.
PSA of the week: Jury Nullification.