What happens when a person breaks the law?

Laws are enforced by the courts and the judicial system. If an adult breaks a law in the community or a business or organization does something illegal, they go to the judicial branch of government for review of their actions. The judicial branch is made up of different courts. The court leader, or judge, interprets the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether they break the rules of the Constitution. If a person or group is found guilty of breaking a law, the judicial system decides how they should be punished.

In the United States, several laws have been written to protect the rights of someone accused of committing a crime. He or she is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Someone suspected of a crime is usually arrested and taken into custody by a police officer. Sometimes, the case is presented before a grand jury (a group of citizens who examines the accusations made). The grand jury files an indictment, or a formal charge, if there appears to be enough evidence for a trial. In many criminal cases, however, there is no grand jury. While awaiting trial, the accused may be temporarily released on bail (which is the amount of money meant to guarantee that the person will return for trial instead of leaving the country) or kept in a local jail. Trials are usually held before a judge and a jury of 12 citizens. The government presents its case against an accused person, or defendant, through a district attorney, and another district attorney defends the accused. If the defendant is judged innocent, he or she is released. If he or she is found guilty of committing a crime, the judge decides the punishment or sentence, using established guidelines. The lawbreaker may be forced to pay a fine, pay damages, or go to prison.


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