A Brief Overview of Criminal Law
Criminal and penal law refers to the same type of law. Punishments under these laws can be severe and unique depending on the offense and the jurisdiction. Imprisonment, execution, parole, probation and fines are the most common forms of punishment. On occasion, the lines between civil and criminal law become blurred.
The first written code of law was produced by the Sumarians. Civil and criminal law were not separated in these early codes.
The potential for serious consequences and for failure to follow the rules makes criminal law unique. If imprisonment is ordered, it can be solitary and span the lifetime of the individual. House arrest is another form of confinement that requires individuals to follow rules set forth by probation or parole department. Money and property can also be taken from those who are convicted.
Five categories of penalties include punishment, retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and restitution. These punishments will vary among jurisdictions..
For crimes that have an effect on entire areas and societies because of their heinous nature, public international law applies. Public International Law began following World War 2 with the Nuremberg Trials. These trials marked the beginning of individuals being held accountable even though they were acting on behalf of their government. They cannot claim sovereign immunity.
Creating a fear of punishment is how most laws are enforced.
Generally, undesirable acts are forbidden by criminal law. Actus reus, or guilty act, requires evidence that a crime was committed by an action, a threat of action or a lack of action. Actus reus requires a physical element. If someone is in charge of caring for someone else, whether by contract, blood relation living together or through an official position then actus reus applies. It also applies to situations that are dangerous as a result of one. ‘s own actions. This is where the Good Samaritan Laws apply.
Some crimes, such as regulatory offenses, require no more. These crimes are called strict liability offenses. Due to the potential severity of consequences, proof of intent must be met. Proof of a guilty mind, or mens rea, is required.
For crimes that require both to be present, actus reus and mens rea must be present at the same time. They cannot occur at different times.
Nullifying actus reus can occur by proving that the harm to a person would have happened anyway. If you run a red light and injury a person, actus reus will not be nullified because their injury was a direct result of your intended action.
Mens rea, or a guilty mind, means that there was intention to violate the law. Under criminal law; intention and motive or not the same. Good intentions do not negate criminal intentions
If a defendant realizes that an act is hazardous but does it anyway, they have met the mens rea requirement. It is known as recklessness. Courts often consider if the individual should have realized the risk or not. Mens rea has been reduced in some areas of criminal law because if the individual should have known the risk, but did not, intent is erased.
The seriousness of an offense can vary due to intent. If an individual has the intent of killing or causing bodily harm that could result in death, it is murder. If someone is killed because of recklessness it could be manslaughter. It does not matter who is actually harmed by the act. If you intend to hit someone but, end up hitting someone else, your intent is then transferred to that person. This is called transferred malice.
Strict liability is a generally used in civil law. It is harm caused by a defendant regardless of intent or mens reas. Not all crimes require specific intent.
Murder is the most often targeted act under criminal law. Some jurisdictions have levels of severity for murder. First degree murder is based on intent and requires malice. Manslaughter is a killing committed in without malice being present. It is often brought about by reasonable provocation, or diminished capacity.. A killing involving reckless can be considered involuntary manslaughter in areas that have that offense.
Settled insanity is a possible defense.
Assault and battery can create criminal liability. Rape is considered a form battery
Trespassing falls under criminal law as does conversion, theft, embezzlement and robbery.
Knowing about a crime or conspiring to commit one can result in criminal charges even if the crime itself is never committed. Some examples of this are: aiding, abetting, conspiracy, and attempt.