Criminal Law

Crimes are usually categorized as felonies or misdemeanors based on their nature and the maximum punishment that can be imposed. A felony involves serious misconduct that is punishable by life, death or by imprisonment for more than one year. Crimes that do not amount to felonies are misdemeanors or violations. A misdemeanor is misconduct for which the law prescribes punishment of no more than one year in prison. Lesser offenses, such as traffic offenses and violations of county and city ordinances are often called violations and are also considered a part of criminal law.

The Georgia criminal statutes are established by the state legislature and define very specifically what actions constitute violations of the state’s criminal law. Georgia counties and cities are also given the power to enact ordinances that establish and define what actions constitute violations of their jurisdiction’s criminal law.

Each criminal law involves one or more “elements” of the crime. For example, the elements of burglary in Georgia are: 1) unauthorized, 2) entry into a building or similar structure, 3) with the intent to commit a felony or theft. If a person is charged with violating a the Georgia burglary statute or any other criminal law, it is the burden of the State, county or city prosecutor to prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by proving each and every element of the offense as it is defined. This requires legally admissible proof.

Furthermore, if a police officer or other state agent violates a person’s constitutional rights in obtaining the evidence of that person’s guilt (for example an unlawful stop, unlawful search or unlawful questioning), that evidence can be challenged and possibly suppressed (thrown out). If evidence is suppressed that is absolutely necessary for the prosecutor to prove one or more elements of the crime the person is charged with, it is likely that the prosecutor will have no choice but to dismiss that charge.

Each criminal statute or ordinance also has a prescribed punishment. However, this prescribed punishment is generally a range. For example, in Georgia, burglary is punishable by “one to twenty years” in prison. This gives the Judge a lot of flexibility in determining an appropriate sentence to impose in any particular crime. It allows the Judge to take into consideration all aspects of the crime itself (how bad the person acted and how much harm was done because of the act). It also allows the Judge to take into account all aspects of the person’s personal circumstances – both the bad (why he/she committed the crime, how much trouble the person has gotten into in the past, how sorry the person is that he/she committed the offense) and the good (how steady and good a worker he/she is, does he/she go to church or get involved with church or other civic activities, how well does the person provide for his/her family, how well is the person liked by other for the “right” reasons).

A person charged with a felony or a serious misdemeanor or traffic offense must have an attorney who is well versed in all of the different aspects of the criminal law. That means one who will determine whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove the person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; one who will research whether the person’s constitutional rights were violated in obtaining any of the evidence that the prosecutor will be relying on; and one who has enough experience to know when there is enough legally admissible evidence to prove the person’s guilt.

If there is enough evidence to prove the person’s guilt, that person must consider entering a guilty plea to the charge or some lesser charge and let the experienced criminal defense attorney use his/her skills to either negotiate a light sentence or present the case to the judge in such a way to convince the judge to impose a light sentence.

Mr. Brownell was an Assistant District Attorney in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit (now Hall County and Dawson County, but formerly included Lumpkin and White Counties) from 1985 through 1995, achieving the status of Senior Assistant and then Chief Assistant District Attorney before entering into private practice. During that prosecutorial period, he prosecuted over 2000 felony cases and tried over 100 felony jury trials ranging from minor felonies through death penalty murder cases.

He now defends clients in all Felony and Misdemeanor cases in all Georgia Municipal, State and Superior Courts including but not limited to bond hearings, preliminary hearings, suppression hearings, jury trials, probation revocation charges, appeals and habeas corpus petitions. He has defended over 650 criminal cases since going into private practice.

With his criminal law experience as both a prosecutor and a Defense Attorney, Mr. Brownell is able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a criminal case from both sides and then strongly advocate whatever is necessary to achieve what is in his clients’ best interest – whether that means challenging the admissibility of evidence, obtaining the lightest sentence possible in the event of a guilty plea, or fighting the prosecutor in a jury trial.

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