Introduction to Criminal Law

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Chapter 1 : Introduction to Criminal Law

Introduction to Criminal Law arrow_upward

  • A Crime is any act or omission that violates a law which results in a punishment.
  • A Crime is any behavior that is punishable by imprisonment or fine.
  • The level of the offense or crime will usually be set in proportion to the severity of the crime.
  • Criminal Law is a branch of law which concerns crimes committed against the public authority.
  • Criminal law encompasses the rules and statutes written by Congress and State Legislators dealing with any criminal activity that causes harm to the general public, with penalties.
  • Criminal law is typically enforced by the government.
  • Criminal procedures are safeguards against the indiscriminate application of criminal laws and the wanton treatment of suspected criminals.

  • Purpose of Criminal Law arrow_upward

  • The criminal law is the foundation of the criminal justice system.
  • In criminal law, a guilty defendant is punished by either:
    • Incarceration in a jail or prison.

    • Fine paid to the government, or
    • Execution of the defendant.
  • The purpose of criminal law is to protect and serve.
  • The purpose of criminal law is two-fold:
    • To express public morality.
    • To set or teach boundaries in society.
  • Criminal law's purpose is to establish rules and boundaries within society and punish those that violate these societal regulations.

  • Overview of the Legal System arrow_upward

  • In the United States, laws are made at the federal and state levels.
  • The judicial system in the United States is unique insofar as it is actually made up of two different court systems:
    • The Federal Court System
    • The State Court System
  • The United States Constitution created a governmental structure for the United States known as Federalism.
  • The term "federalism" is used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units.
  • Federalism provides a degree of representation and political autonomy for ethnic and other territorially based cultural groups.
  • The United States has a federal system of government where the states and national government exercise separate powers within their own spheres of authority.
    • Both the national government and the smaller political subdivisions have the power to make laws, and both have a certain level of autonomy from each other.

    Branches of the U.S. Government arrow_upward

    In the United States, a government, whether federal or state, is composed of three separate branches:

  • Legislative Branch
    • Comprised of elected representatives who set public policy.
  • Executive Branch
    • It is led by an elected official: president at the federal level and governors at the state level.
    • To implement or execute the laws enacted by the legislative branch.
  • Judicial Branch
    • It is the court system.
    • Its role is to resolve disputes and interpret the "law".

    Primary Sources of Law arrow_upward

  • There are four types of law that are binding over citizens of the United States, referred to in the legal system as the “Primary Sources of Law”:
    • Constitutional Law
    • Statutes
    • Common Law
    • Regulations

    Constitutional Law

  • Constitution is the foundation of the legal system.
  • A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed.
  • It is based on a formal document that defines broad powers.
  • Federal constitutional law originates from the U.S. Constitution.
  • No laws may contradict any of the Constitution's principles and no governmental authority in the U.S. is exempt from complying with it.
  • Statutes

  • Statutes are a formal written enactment of a legislative body, whether federal, state, city or count.
  • Statutes are legislation passed on the federal, state, or local levels.
  • The U.S. Congress has exclusive authority to enact federal legislation.
  • Each state may pass legislation according to rules applicable in that state, usually established by the state’s constitution.
  • Common Law

  • Common law or case law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action.
  • Common law is based on the concept of precedence on how the courts have interpreted the law.
  • It is based on decisions of the state and federal courts, especially those of the highest courts in the specific jurisdiction, and their binding effect in subsequent case.
  • Regulations

  • A regulation implements the policy adopted in a statute.
  • The executive branch of government produces regulations and enforces congressional statutes.
  • The legislative body must give the executive agency the authority to make and implement regulations in an enabling statute.

  • Classification of Crimes arrow_upward

    There are a variety of crimes that can be committed by individuals:

  • Felonies
    • Felony crimes are unlawful acts whose minimum punishment carries the possibility of fines and jail time.
    • Some common felonies include:
    • Murder
    • Rape
    • Burglary
    • Kidnapping
    • Arson
    • Robbery
  • Misdemeanors
    • A Misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime.
    • Some common misdemeanors include:-
    • Public intoxication
    • Trespassing
    • Speeding
    • Prostitution
    • Vandalism
    • Use of a false ID
  • Crimes against the Person
    • A crime against the person is a crime that's committed using direct harm or force against the victim.
  • Crimes against Property
    • Any crime committed by damaging or intruding on the property of the victim falls under a crime against property.
  • Crimes against Public Order
    • A crime against public order is a crime that harms the community.
  • Theft and Fraud Crimes
    • There are a wide variety of theft and fraud crimes that involve illegally taking a victim's property.
    • A Fraud crime is a crime in which deception is used to cause another person to suffer financial harm.

    Purpose of Punishing Criminal Law Violators arrow_upward

  • The criminal justice system uses punishment as a prevention tool.
  • The good consequences of punishment are usually said to be the promotion of utility through the reduction in crime.
  • Various theories of punishment are as follows:
    • Deterrence
    • Retribution
    • Rehabilitation
    • Incapacitation



  • Deterrence can be defined as the prevention of socially undesirable behavior by fear of punishment.
  • Deterrence is an act or process of discouraging a certain action by instilling fear, doubt, and anxiety or by creating confusions.
  • Retribution

  • Retributive justice is based on principles of revenge.
  • Retributive justice is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society.
  • Retributionists maintain that individuals who commit crimes deserve punishment in proportion with their moral culpability.
  • Rehabilitation

  • Rehabilitation takes place when the character of the person punished is altered so that he or she no longer desires to commit the sort of act for which he or she was punished.
  • Incapacitation

  • ‘Incapacitation’ refers to removal of the opportunity or ability of the potential criminal to commit criminal acts.

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