7 Famous Criminal Law Cases in U.S. History

October 12, 2017

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal law is the body of law that relates to crime and includes conduct perceived as harmful, threatening, or otherwise endangering to the healthy, safety, property, and welfare of people.

Criminal law includes the punishment of people who violate laws of criminal statues.

Over the years, there have been many criminal cases tried in the United States. Some of these past cases have gotten the attention of the general public, due to the parties involved or the crime itself.

Here are 7 of the most famous criminal law cases in U.S. history.

1. O.J. Simpson

criminal law

The infamous case of O.J. Simpson was followed closely by the entire nation.

Former National Football League player, actor, and broadcaster O.J. Simpson was tried for two accounts of murder in 1994. Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a restaurant waiter, Ron Goldman.

Simpson was represented by a high-profile defense team, that many referred to as the Dream Team. It included famous names like Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, and Robert Kardashian.

Cochran was able to convince the jury that there was reasonable doubt about the DNA evidence, and he alleged misconduct by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The trial lasted 11 months, and Simpson was found not guilty. Since then, it is often referred to as “the trial of the century” and there have been television series, movies, and documentaries made about the trial.

However, the families of the deceased filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson. The jury unanimously found him guilty for both deaths, and awarded the families $33.5 million for compensatory and punitive damages.

Many feel the justice system prevailed 13 years later when Simpson was convicted and sentenced on robbery and weapons charges.

2. Martha Stewart

criminal law

Unlike many criminal cases, Martha Stuart’s wasn’t based on heinous acts, but was related to insider trading.

In 2003, Stewart was indicted by the government on nine counts, including obstruction of justice and securities fraud.

Her trial was highly publicized due, partly because it was hard to believe that the queen of domestic living broke so many laws. Stewart was found guilty of felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators.

She was, however, found not guilty of having falsely claimed that there was an agreement to sell her shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia when the prices fell.

Stewart was sentenced to five months in prison, five months of home confinement, two-year probation, and a $30,000 fine.

3. Jeffrey Dahmer

criminal law

Jeffrey Dahmer aka the Milwaukee Cannibal, was charged with four counts of murder in July 1991.

Less than a month later, he was charged with 11 more murders. At his preliminary hearing, Dahmer pleaded guilty, but insane, to 15 counts of murder.

Three months after his conviction, Dahmer was extradited to Ohio to be tried for the murder of his first victim. The court hearing only lasted 45 minutes, and Dahmer pleaded guilty again.

Dahmer was murdered by a fellow inmate, Christopher Scarver, while serving his sentence.

He took 17 victims in total, all males. The unfortunate legend of the American serial killer and cannibal lives on and is often mentioned in pop culture today.

4. Charles Manson

criminal law

Charles Manson is the former cult leader of a group that became known as the Manson Family.

The cult was a quasi-commune at arose in California in the late 1960s, and Manson’s followers committed a series of nine murders.

Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, including the famous actress, Sharon Tate. Manson was also charged with first-degree murder convictions for two other deaths, and is currently serving multiple life sentences.

A decade following Tate’s murder, it was possible that the Manson Family members in jail would be granted parole. Tate’s mother organized a public campaign that resulted in amendments to the California criminal law.

5. Watergate Scandal

criminal law

The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that happened in the 1970s, following a break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.

One of the main reasons the scandal become so well known was because of the involvement of President Richard Nixon and his administration.

Because of the break in, it was discovered that Nixon and his administration had bugged the offices of political opponents and order investigations of political figures.

Five men were arrested for breaking into the DNC, but the FBI found connections between the thieves and Nixon’s campaign organization.

It was discovered that Nixon had attempted to cover up activities after the break in, and used federal officials to do so. Instead of being impeached, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

To this day, the term Watergate is used synonymously with political scandals in the United States.

6. Richard Hauptmann

criminal law

Richard Hauptmann was the man behind what many people called “the crime of the century” and dubbed “the most hated man in the world.”

Hauptmann was convicted of the abduction and murder of the 20 month-old son of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, and his wife Anne Lindbergh.

In 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr, was kidnapped from his home, and a $50,000 ransom note was delivered. Sadly, the infant’s body was discovered a few months after the kidnapping.

Two years after the abduction, a bank teller had received a $10 gold certificate from a gas station, with a serial number that matched the list of Lindbergh ransom bills.

The attendant had written the license plate number of the customer’s car, and the owner of the car was placed under surveillance. That owner was Richard Hauptmann.

Hauptmann quickly realized he was under surveillance and attempted to escape, but was captured.

Even though the evidence was circumstantial, Hauptmann was found guilt, and sentenced to death. On the death of his execution, Hauptmann told his spiritual advisor “I am absolutely innocent of the crime with which I am burdened.”

7. The McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial

criminal law

When the McMartin Preschool Abuse Trial happened it was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history.

It all started when a mother of a young boy who attended the McMartin Preschool told a detective that a school aide, Ray Buckey, had molested her son. The mother also made several other accusations about additional staff at the school.

The police sent a letter out to the parents of the students at McMartin school, asking the parents to question their children on whether they had been abused or not.

Several hundred students were interviewed by an abuse therapy clinic. It was said that the interviewing techniques used during the interviews invited the children to speculate about supposed events.

Soon after the interviews, the clinic claimed 360 children had been abused. Many people questioned the interview and findings of the clinic, and only 41 children testified during the grand jury.

Fewer than a dozen children testified at the actual trial. The trial was filled with bizarre and unusual allegations, such as witches, people flying, and underground tunnels.

Multiple teachers at the school were charged with 115 counts of child abuse, which expanded to 321 accounts involving almost 50 children.

The trial lasted seven years, cost $15 million, and ended in no convictions.

Since then, one of the children fully retracted the allegations of abuse, stating that the children were encouraged to give answers the clinic was looking for, even if they weren’t true. And later, an article in Los Angeles magazine said the case was “simply invented.”

Criminal Cases Throughout History

Throughout history, criminal law has seen the bad, the unexpected, and just bizarre.

Crime rates vary over time, but the current crime rates are equivalent to those in the 1960s.

Criminal Lawyers in Missouri

Criminal law is mainly enforced at the state level, but many laws are similar state to state.

In Missouri, crimes are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions.

If you have been accused of a crime, your first strep should be to consult with a criminal law attorney.

At Suddarth & Koor, LLC you will get the experienced representation you need to protect yourself. Throughout our 70+ years of combined experience, we have handled 1000’s of criminal cases in St. Charles County, Missouri and the surrounding counties.

We represent clients in state and federal courts, and our record of success over the years has demonstrated our ability to secure favorable outcomes in even the most complicated situations.