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What Is Criminal Law (Explained: All You Need To Know)

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What is Criminal Law?

What’s important to know about it?

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Let me explain to you what Criminal Law is and how it works!

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What Is Criminal Law

Criminal law refers to the body of laws designed to punish individuals who commit actions that are considered to be a crime in a given territory.

In other words, criminal laws are intended to keep the public safe and to punish those that harm the safety and well-being of others.

For example, a person that is found to drive under the influence of alcohol exceeding a certain threshold may be found to have committed a crime.

Every jurisdiction will define what actions or omissions may be viewed as crimes.

In the United States, every state is given the power to determine what conduct, behavior, or action is considered a crime.

The federal government can also adopt laws intended to punish certain types of crimes.

It is only the state that has the power to file criminal charges against someone.

Typically, criminal charges are brought when the prosecutor is confident that it can prove that a person actually committed a crime and had the intention of committing the crime.

Furthermore, since criminal punishments can be severe, the prosecutor has the burden to prove that a crime was committed beyond any reasonable doubt, which is a much heavier burden than in civil proceedings.

Keep reading as I will further break down the meaning of criminal law and tell you why it matters.

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Why Criminal Laws Are Important

Criminal laws are very important laws designed to keep us safe in society.

The main objective behind the adoption of criminal laws is to protect us from physical harm, protect our moral welfare, and protect our property.

For example, if you take someone’s property without their authorization, that can be considered a crime of theft.

Alternatively, if a person threatens to physically hurt another person while knowing that the other person is effectively fearing for his or her safety, that can be a criminal offense.

Now, from the offender’s perspective, criminal laws are designed to punish and rehabilitate those who commit a crime.

By punishing individuals who commit a crime, you are effectively holding them accountable for the harm they have caused to the victim of the crime.

However, it’s equally important to help rehabilitate the individual so that he or she no longer commits a crime in the future.

For example, a person found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol will pay the price through loss of a driver’s license, fines, and perhaps jail time.

However, the person will also be asked to participate in programs that help bring awareness of the consequences of driving under the influence so the person does not commit the same mistake in the future.

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Objective of Criminal Laws

Although criminal systems vary from one jurisdiction to another, there are generally five criminal law objectives that are commonly accepted: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restoration.

Retribution is what most consider the primary objective of criminal laws which is to punish those who commit crimes, hurt others, take advantage of others, or cause serious harm to others.

Deterrence is to design of a criminal system and punishment aimed at deterring individuals from engaging in such conduct.

The fear of punishment will generally deter a large number of people from engaging in criminal activity.

Incapacitation is the objective of removing dangerous people and criminals from society so we can live in a safer environment.

Rehabilitation is the objective of helping criminal offenders understand the consequences of their conduct and make positive changes to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Restoration is the objective of having the offender restore what was taken from the victim to the extent possible.

For instance, if a person committed a financial crime, the offender will be asked to return the funds illegally taken.

Recommended article: What is specific deterrence

Types of Criminal Laws

In the United States, there are different types of crimes that can be committed, felonies, misdemeanors, inchoate offenses, and strict liability offenses.

Felonies are crimes that are considered very serious.

Typically, felony offenses carry important consequences such as heavy fines, jail time, or imprisonment.

Another type of crime is misdemeanor crime.

Misdemeanors are serious crimes but less serious than felony crimes.

Misdemeanor crimes can include administrative or regulatory offenses, and minor or petty crimes.

Inchoate offenses are intended to punish those that were taking steps to commit a punishable crime, such as attempted crimes, solicitation crimes, or conspiracy.

Strict liability crimes are those where the law considers an individual liable the moment a punishable conduct was committed regardless of the person’s mental state and intentions.

You can classify crimes in other categories as well, such as crimes against a person, crimes against property, financial crimes, crimes against the state, crimes against justice, sexual crimes, or crimes against animals.

Recommended article: Difference between misdemeanor vs felony

Elements of Criminal Statutes

Criminal laws and statutes generally require two distinct elements to be proven in court so a person is found guilty of a crime.

The first element in criminal law is the actus reus representing the actual commission of an offense.

To prove actus reus is to prove the “act” or that a person actually did something, acted a certain way, behaved in a certain way, or refrained from doing something.

For example, if someone is charged with murder, the actus reus of the crime is to show that the defendant actually killed another person.

The second element of criminal law is the mens rea representing the intention of the person committing the crime.

For a person to be found guilty of a crime, he or she must have the intention of committing a crime.

For example, a person who killed someone will be found guilty of murder if he or she had the intention of killing the other person.

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So there you have it folks!

What does criminal law mean?

In a nutshell, criminal law refers to the body of laws designed to punish certain acts that are reprehensible in society.

Although every legal system will have its own objectives in defining its criminal laws, the main objectives are retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restoration.

Depending on the seriousness of the crime, a person can be punished by being imposed a fine, having to serve time in the community, having to follow certain rehabilitation programs, getting jail time, or going to prison.

In the United States, there are states that impose capital punishment for very serious crimes.

Now that you know what criminal laws are all about and why they are important, good luck with your research!

Actus reus meaning
Mens rea meaning
Property offenses
Fatal offenses 
Right to attorney 
Civil law 
Ex post facto 
Duress meaning

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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