Statutes vs. Common Law
Legal terminology sometimes referred to as legalese, is complicated in part by the convoluted structure of the judicial system. Legal decisions can come from different authoritative bodies, be it a government or a judge. There are different courts that handle different types of cases, and different authoritative bodies that can create laws and enforce them. Because there are different types of law, there are different types of crimes. Among these are statutory offenses. A statutory offense is a crime for which you can be punished. Not all crimes are statutory offenses, but many are. Now, let’s look at exactly what a statutory offense is.
A statute is a formal law passed by a legislative body for a state, city, or country and signed into effect. This is part of the legal code by which we must follow. California statutes result from bills that are passed by the legislature and typically, but not always, are signed by the governor. Statutes reflect initiatives and the problems common to a specific jurisdiction. This is part of the reason why statutes can vary so much from city to city and state to state. What is a crime in one state may be legal in others. To complicate matters further, you are still subject to state and city law whether you live there and are aware of the laws or not. California has certain statutes that are not relevant in other states. For example, recreational marijuana is legal in California now, but illegal in many other states. Federal statutes apply more broadly and may or may not duplicate state statutes.
A statutory offense, therefore, is one that is declared illegal and punishable under a proscriptive statute (i.e. the written law). Different governmental entities may have different statutes. Some, but not all, statutes in different jurisdictions overlap or are complimentary to each other. This is one of the reasons why the practice of law can be so complicated. If you are facing charges for a statutory offense, know that what is stated in the statute may be interpreted a certain way. Likewise, it is important to understand under which statute you are being charged, as that can have ramifications for the options you have in your case. These are matters you should speak with an attorney about, especially if you want to fight your charges. Sometimes, a skilled attorney can argue a point in a case that highlights parts of the statute that allow room for interpretation or negotiation. Indeed, this is where having a knowledgeable attorney on your side comes in handy.
Statutes differ from governmental regulations or common law. Common law, also called case law, results from a body of judicial decisions as opposed to statutes on the books. Instead of new laws being passed, common law can gradually shift as new judicial decisions become a part of the past precedent. Common law has existed and evolved in our country for hundreds of years. Some of the decisions judges make under common law are supported or informed by existing statutes while others may be interpreted from the statutes thereby creating a new understanding or application of a statutory law. Sometimes this results in changes to the existing statute, such as new definitions or boundaries. Governmental regulations are regulations set forth by governmental entities. They may, but not always will be informed by statutes or common law, but they serve a different purpose.
It is important to understand the difference between these two types of law because your sentencing could be affected by whether you are charged under a statute (which often have sentencing guidelines) or if it is a decision made by the judge based off of previous judicial decisions. Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges. Facing charges doesn’t mean you have no chance. Have an attorney evaluate your case and explain on what basis you are being charged and what that means. An attorney can advise you of your rights and plan a strategic defense based on your specific offense. Trying to do this without an attorney can be difficult, especially if you do not have a thorough knowledge of the California legal code and the statutes applicable to your case.
Are you facing criminal charges? California attorney Christopher Martens knows California criminal defense and will work hard to help you fight your charges. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians move on from their conviction. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.