Most people are aware that murder and manslaughter are distinct crimes. They might even know that each has subcategories—murder is either in the first or second degree, while manslaughter is either voluntary or involuntary.
In addition to using court discovery procedures to obtain evidence from the prosecution, defense attorneys have a duty to investigate their clients’ cases. Effective lawyers will gather evidence of their own in preparation for trial—and even to see whether the client has a reasonably shot at winning at trial.
Interviewing prosecution witnesses can be a critical component of preparing a defense in a criminal case. But there are other forms of investigation that might also provide or reveal essential information.
To convict a criminal defendant, the prosecutor must prove the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, the defendant gets an opportunity to present a defense. There are many defenses, from "I didn't do it" to "I did it, but it was self-defense” and beyond. Read more about some common defenses below.
A lesser included offense (or “necessarily” included offense) is a criminal law term for a crime that’s contained within a greater crime—you can’t commit the greater offense without committing the lesser.
“Lesser related offense” is a criminal law term for a crime that’s less serious than, but in some way similar to, another crime. There is a subtle, but important, difference between lesser related offenses, and lesser included offenses.
Rules of evidence are the trial system’s equivalent of the rules of grammar. Just as grammar rules govern how we speak and write, evidence rules control courtroom procedures. Evidence rules limit not only what witnesses and lawyers can say during trials, but also how they can say it.