criminal procedure: an overview
Criminal procedure is composed of the rules governing the series of proceedings through which the substantive criminal law is enforced. In the United States, most crimes are defined by local and state government, though the federal government has adopted its own criminal code, at Title 18, to deal with activities extending beyond state boundaries or having special impact on federal operations.
The procedure for criminal trials in federal courts is outlined in Title 18. States also have statutes that set out the framework for criminal procedure, subject to important constitutional limits. For example, the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights (http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html) provides basic protections including the right to an attorney, the right to not testify, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to a jury trial, among others. State constitutions may increase, but not take away from the federal protections.
The American criminal system is an adversarial and accusatorial model. Criminal procedure must balance the defendant’s rights and the state’s interests in a speedy and efficient trial with the desire for justice. Therefore, the rules of criminal procedure are designed to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected.
The rules of criminal procedure are different from those of civil procedure, because the two areas (criminal and civil) have different objectives and results. In criminal cases, the state brings the suit and must show guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, while in civil cases the plaintiff brings the suit and must only show the defendant is liable by a preponderance of the evidence.