Criminal Law Science Study of Justice regulation System College Notes Exams





Studying Criminal Law Science College University Notes Tests


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Go to the Criminal Law Tests



Criminal Law & Justice Regulation of Crimes Making the world a better place


Criminal law refers to a body of laws that apply to criminal acts. In instances where an individual fails to adhere to a particular criminal statute, he or she commits a criminal act by breaking the law. This body of laws is different from civil law, because criminal law penalties involve the forfeiture of one's rights and imprisonment. Conversely, civil laws relate to the resolution of legal controversies and involve money damages.

There are various theories for why we have a criminal law system. Neither theory is exclusive or dispositive. The main theories for criminal law include: to deter crime, to reform the perpetrator, to provide retribution for the act, and to prevent further crimes. There is much discussion regarding these theories of criminal law and which policy is best promoted by the body of criminal law.

Types of Criminal Laws

There are two types of criminal laws: misdemeanors and felonies. A misdemeanor is an offense that is considered a lower level criminal offense, such as minor assaults, traffic offenses, or petty thefts. Moreover, in most states, the penalty for the misdemeanor crime is typically one year or less.

In contrast, felony crimes involve more serious offenses. Some examples of felonies include murder, manslaughter, dealing drugs, rape, robbery, and arson. In virtually every state in the U.S., felonies carry a penalty of one year or more, depending upon the particular nature of the offense and the jurisdiction where the felony crime was committed. In addition, every state has a different body of criminal laws which vary from state to state. There are also federal criminal law statutes which apply to every state in the U.S.

Criminal Law, as distinguished from civil law, is a system of laws concerned with punishment of individuals who commit crimes. Thus, where in a civil case two individuals dispute their rights, a criminal prosecution involves the people as a whole deciding whether to punish an individual for his conduct or lack of conduct (i.e. omission). Just as the people decide what conduct to punish, so the people decide what punishment is appropriate. Accordingly, punishments vary with the severity of the offense—from a simple fine (e.g. for a traffic violation) to loss of freedom (e.g. for murder).

Each state decides what conduct to designate a crime. Thus, each state has its own criminal code. Congress has also chosen to punish certain conduct, codifying federal criminal law in Title 18 of the U.S. Code. Criminal laws vary significantly among the states and the Federal Government. While some statutes resemble the common law criminal code, others, like the New York Penal Law, closely mimic the Model Penal Code (MPC).

A “crime” is any act or omission in violation of a law prohibiting it, or omitted in violation of a law ordering it. The government cannot prosecute an individual for conduct that was not declared criminal at the time the individual acted. The Constitution explicitly forbids in Article 1, Sections 9 and 10 retroactively applicable criminal laws—ex post facto laws.

It is also important to note that a law cannot punish a person simply for their status. As the Supreme Court explained in Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962), any statute that criminalizes the status of a person inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments. For example, a state could not punish an individual for “being homeless,” which would be a status offense, but could punish a homeless individual for trespassing or loitering, which involves some conduct.

In general, Criminal Law asks and answers three questions :

► Did an individual commit a crime ?
► Which crime did an individual commit ?
► Does the individual have a defense ?


"Criminal law connotes only the quality of such acts or omissions as are prohibited under appropriate penal provisions by authority of the state. The criminal quality of an act cannot be discerned by intuition; nor can it be discovered by reference to any standard but one: Is the Act prohibited with penal consequences? Morality and criminality are far from co-extensive; nor is the sphere of criminality necessarily part of a more extensive field covered by morality -- unless the moral code necessarily disapproves all acts prohibited by the state, in which case the argument moves in a circle. It appears to their Lordships to be of little value to seek to confine crimes to a category of acts which by their very nature belong to the domain of "criminal jurisprudence;" for the domain of criminal jurisprudence can only be ascertained by examining what acts at any particular period are declared by the state to be crimes, and the only common nature they will be found to possess is that they are prohibited by the state and that those who commit them are punished."



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