Criminal law is any sort of legal practice that has to do with the criminal justice system. The majority of criminal law careers lie in trial practice with lawyers serving as either prosecutors or defense lawyers. Federal crimes, including most WHITE COLLAR CRIMES, are prosecuted through the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. Attorney’s Office in each federal judicial district. State prosecutors generally work for the state Attorney General’s office or district attorneys of their counties, enforcing state and local criminal laws.
Criminal defense attorneys may work in Federal Defender or Public Defender offices; or they may work at the private bar. Private defense lawyers may practice in a small firm, on a solo basis, or in a corporate law firm or litigation boutique. With the enhanced federal regulation of businesses, especially corporations and financial institutions, even lawyers working primarily in a corporate practice are increasingly likely to encounter the need to defend clients, both individual and corporate, against the possibility of criminal liability.
Other career options in criminal law include policy work or a scholarly career as a law professor specializing in criminal law. Policy work may be with a government or private nonprofit employer focusing on empirical research for criminal justice institutions and advocating reforms for those institutions. In either case, a few years of practice may be an intermediate step before research, teaching and scholarship. In addition, attorneys with criminal law experience can be attractive candidates for judicial positions.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL LAW is a unique hybrid of criminal law and international law. Depending upon the nature of the criminal activity and the provisions of a treaty, if any, between the U.S. and the other state with an interest in the matter, “transnational crimes” may be prosecuted in a federal court in the U.S., whereas “international crimes,” or cases involving offenses against the world community, are typically referred to an international tribunal. At times, federal prosecutors may practice some INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL LAW or assist other federal agencies in enforcing the IMMIGRATION LAWS. There are some boutique law firms in the U.S., principally in New York and Washington, D.C., that specialize in defending high-ranking individuals accused of international or transnational crimes, such as heads of state or political or military leaders. When the accused is a foreign national, criminal lawyers should be mindful of the immigration laws and the effect of the criminal prosecution on the defendant’s immigration status.
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