The Basics of Criminal Law

Criminal law involves the prosecution of people for committing crimes. It is an important part of keeping society stable and protecting the vulnerable.

Many argue that there are reasons to call thieves and murderers to account, and that criminal proceedings serve an intrinsic value. 스토킹전문변호사 However, there are also arguments that general justifications for criminal law are unduly expansive: much moral wrongdoing, it is argued, generates secondary duties of prevention.


Crimes are governed by the body of laws referred to as criminal law. Criminal statutes describe prohibited conduct, the mental state or intent required for guilt, and the range of possible punishments. These elements differ greatly by jurisdiction, and specific crimes depend on a variety of factors including local ordinances, state constitutions, and the U.S. Code.

Generally speaking, crimes can be broken down into two categories: acts and mens rea. An act is the particular behavior that constitutes the crime, such as larceny (taking property without permission). The act must be done with some mental state, or mens rea, such as malice, to make it a crime. For instance, a person who deliberately kills another is guilty of murder, while someone who accidentally kills another may be charged with manslaughter.

The laws of a given jurisdiction establish which behaviors are considered to be crimes, and they often change over time to reflect current social concerns. The laws also establish which individuals are responsible for the prosecution of the crimes, and they determine which victims are eligible for compensation.

Some writers seek criminal law’s distinctiveness in its expressive function, noting that a criminal court’s verdict of DD’s guilt conveys more than just a financial cost to DD. Rather, a guilty verdict expresses public censure and condemnation. It sends the message that “we consider DD’s conduct morally wrong, and we are sending this message even before we get to the question of how much he must pay.” This preventive function of criminal law is what distinguishes it from other bodies of law.


Punishment is usually aimed at criminals in order to deter them from repeating their offense. It is often considered that punishment should be exemplary in its effect on those who might be tempted to imitate the crime; reformatory of the offender; or, in some cases, personal (that is, at least calculated to wound the feelings or affect the rights of relatives and friends).

Some retributive theorists assert that the judicial process performs a useful educational function by providing concrete examples of the moral values of society. Citizens who see the courts enforce these values may feel more strongly committed to them, while those who witness the courts ignore them may question or feel less constrained by them.

Similarly, it is sometimes thought that the role of the state is to remove offenders from society to protect the public. Imprisonment, for example, does this by removing the offender from the community; and banishment has done so in some societies by relocating offending people.

Other writers seek the distinctiveness of criminal law in other places. They argue that it identifies wrongdoers and publicly censures or condemns them, and that such functions are not provided for by other bodies of law. They may also be provided for by civil law, which provides compensation to victims and remedies for wrongful conduct; and by administrative laws that impose restrictions on the rights and freedoms of convicted criminals.


The criminal law sets forth a variety of penalties for the various crimes that may be committed. These penalties range from fines and restitution to incarceration or even the death penalty for certain serious crimes. The penalties may also include a restraining order against the defendant and orders to keep him or her away from specific places and people. The criminal law also includes provisions for the prosecution of a person who aids and abets a crime, in addition to the criminal law’s prohibition against conspiracy to commit crimes.

Traditionally, the main purpose of criminal law has been to punish citizens for their wrongdoings. This was seen as a way to redress the moral harm caused by the crime and to make society whole again. This view was reflected in the writings of the Enlightenment philosophers Cesare Beccaria, Montesquieu and Voltaire, as well as the British writer Jeremy Bentham.

However, it has been argued that retribution is only one of several objectives that can be achieved by criminal law. Deterrence and incapacitation are also generally considered important objectives of criminal law, with some jurisdictions placing a greater emphasis on deterrence than others. The goal of deterrence is to discourage future crime by making an individual fearful of punishment if he or she repeats a crime. There are two types of deterrence: specific and general.


When faced with a criminal charge, defendants are entitled to present a defense to the charges. This defense may poke holes in the prosecutor’s case, argue that another individual committed the crime, or make a legal and reasonable justification for their conduct. Criminal defenses are categorized as denial or failure of proof, affirmative, and those based on justification and excuse.

The defense of self-defense and the defense of others are commonly used criminal law defenses. These defenses acknowledge that every individual has the right to defend themselves or others in dangerous situations. However, the use of force must be proportionate to the threat. The defense of mistake is often used in cases involving white-collar crimes or theft. It argues that the defendant did not have intent to steal because they honestly and reasonably misunderstood the law at the time of the offense.

A defense of duress is available for individuals who were forced to engage in illegal behavior by threat or force. A defense of intoxication is available for crimes that require a specific mental state, and can be used to argue that the defendant did not have the required intent to commit the offense because they were unable to form the proper mental states at the time of the crime. Finally, a defense of apparent authority can be made when an individual claims that they were acting under the authority of another person.