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Criminal law or Penal law is the body of law that relates to crime. It regulates social conduct and proscribes whatever is threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and moral welfare of people. It includes the punishment of people who violate these laws. Criminal law varies according to jurisdiction, and differs from civil law, where emphasis is more on dispute resolution and victim compensation than on punishment.


Objectives of criminal law

Criminal law is distinctive for the uniquely serious potential consequences or sanctions for failure to abide by its rules. Every crime is composed of criminal elements. Capital punishment may be imposed in some jurisdictions for the most serious crimes. Individuals may be incarcerated in prison or jail in a variety of conditions depending on the jurisdiction. Confinement may be solitary. Length of incarceration may vary from a day to life. Government supervision may be imposed, including house arrest, and convicts may be required to conform to particularized guidelines as part of a parole or probation regimen. Fines also may be imposed, seizing money or property from a person convicted of a crime.

Five objectives are widely accepted for enforcement of the criminal law by punishments: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restoration. Jurisdictions differ on the value to be placed on each.

  • Retribution – Criminals ought to be punished in some way. This is the most widely seen goal. Criminals have taken improper advantage, or inflicted unfair detriment, upon others and consequently, the criminal law will put criminals at some unpleasant disadvantage to "balance the scales." People submit to the law to receive the right not to be murdered and if people contravene these laws, they surrender the rights granted to them by the law. Thus, one who murders may be executed himself. A related theory includes the idea of "righting the balance."
  • Deterrence – Individual deterrence is aimed toward the specific offender. The aim is to impose a sufficient penalty to discourage the offender from criminal behavior. General deterrence aims at society at large. By imposing a penalty on those who commit offenses, other individuals are discouraged from committing those offenses.
  • Incapacitation – Designed simply to keep criminals away from society so that the public is protected from their misconduct. This is often achieved through prison sentences today.
  • Rehabilitation – Aims at transforming an offender into a valuable member of society. Its primary goal is to prevent further offense by convincing the offender that their conduct was wrong.
  • Restoration – This is a victim-oriented theory of punishment. The goal is to repair, through state authority, any injury inflicted upon the victim by the offender. For example, one who embezzles will be required to repay the amount improperly acquired. Restoration is commonly combined with other main goals of criminal justice and is closely related to concepts in the civil law, i.e., returning the victim to his or her original position before the injury.

Selected criminal laws

Many laws are enforced by threat of criminal punishment, and the range of the punishment varies with the jurisdiction. The scope of criminal law is too vast to catalog intelligently. Nevertheless, the following are some of the more typical aspects of criminal law.

Elements

The criminal law generally prohibits undesirable acts. Thus, proof of a crime requires proof of some act. Scholars label this the requirement of a guilty act. Some crimes – particularly modern regulatory offenses – require no more, and they are known as strict liability offenses like a DUI charge (E.g. Under the Road traffic Act 1988 it is a strict liability offence to drive a vehicle with an alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit). Nevertheless, because of the potentially severe consequences of criminal conviction, judges at common law also sought proof of an intent to do some bad thing, the mens rea or guilty mind. As to crimes of which both actus reus and mens rea are requirements, judges have concluded that the elements must be present at precisely the same moment and it is not enough that they occurred sequentially at different times.

Strict liability

Strict liability can be described as criminal or civil liability notwithstanding the lack mens rea or intent by the defendant. Not all crimes require specific intent, and the threshold of culpability required may be reduced or demoted. For example, it might be sufficient to show that a defendant acted negligently, rather than intentionally or recklessly. In offenses of absolute liability, other than the prohibited act, it may not be necessary to show the act was intentional. Generally, crimes must include an intentional act, and "intent" is an element that must be proved in order to find a crime occurred. The idea of a "strict liability crime" is an oxymoron. The few exceptions are not truly crimes at all – but are administrative regulations and civil penalties created by statute, such as crimes against the traffic or highway code.

Fatal offenses

A Murder or Culpable homicide, defined broadly, is an unlawful killing. Unlawful killing is probably the act most frequently targeted by the criminal law. In many jurisdictions, the crime of murder is divided into various gradations of severity, e.g., murder in the first degree, based on intent. Malice is a required element of murder. Manslaughter (Culpable Homicide in Scotland) is a lesser variety of killing committed in the absence of malice, brought about by reasonable provocation, or diminished capacity. Involuntary manslaughter, where it is recognized, is a killing that lacks all but the most attenuated guilty intent, recklessness. Settled insanity is a possible defense.

Personal offenses

Many criminal codes protect the physical integrity of the body. The crime of battery and sexual abuse is traditionally understood as an unlawful touching, although this does not include everyday knocks and jolts to which people silently consent as the result of presence in a crowd. Creating a fear of imminent battery is an assault, and also may give rise to criminal liability. Non-consensual intercourse, or rape, is a particularly egregious form of battery.

Property offenses

Criminal damage, Criminal trespass, Theft, Robbery, Extortion, Dacoity, Burglary, and Fraud Property often is protected by the criminal law. Trespassing is unlawful entry onto the real property of another. Many criminal codes provide penalties for conversion, embezzlement, theft, all of which involve deprivations of the value of the property. Robbery is a theft by force. Fraud is also representation, by failure to disclose information or by abuse of position.

Participatory offenses

Participatory offenses include Accomplice, Aid and abet, and Inchoate offenses. Some criminal codes criminalize association with a criminal venture or involvement in criminality that does not actually come to fruition. Some examples are aiding, abetting, conspiracy, and attempt.

Mala in se v. mala prohibita

While crimes are typically broken into degrees or classes to punish appropriately, all offenses can be divided into 'mala in se' and 'mala prohibita' laws. Both are Latin legal terms, mala in se meaning crimes that are thought to be inherently evil or morally wrong, and thus will be widely regarded as crimes regardless of jurisdiction. Mala in se offenses are felonies, property crimes, immoral acts and corrupt acts by public officials. Mala prohibita, on the other hand, refers to offenses that do not have wrongfulness associated with them. Parking in a restricted area, driving the wrong way down a one-way street, jaywalking or unlicensed fishing are examples of acts that are prohibited by statute, but without which are not considered wrong. Mala prohibita statutes are usually imposed strictly, as there does not need to be mens rea component for punishment under those offenses, just the act itself. For this reason, it can be argued that offenses that are mala prohibita are not really crimes at all.


Criminal law. (2016, September 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:18, September 29, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Criminal_law&oldid=741784883