The Basics of Criminal Law

Criminal law deals with punishing and rehabilitating offenders as well as protecting society. It differs from civil law, which is concerned with contract disputes, property issues, and torts.


Each state and the federal government decide what kinds of conduct to criminalize. There are usually nine felonies and various misdemeanors.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors represent their clients in court.


A crime is an act that violates the law. In order to be convicted of a crime, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime and that the defendant knew that it was wrong. In most jurisdictions, crimes are classified into felony and misdemeanor classes. A felony is punishable by a higher level of imprisonment, and a m 성범죄변호사 isdemeanor is not.

For some scholars, criminal law’s value is found in its preventive role. This function, they argue, is distinct from other bodies of law, such as tort or contract law. Criminal law imposes a penalty, which sends a message to the public that moral wrongdoing is not tolerated. In this way, the prevention of moral harm may be a reason to have criminal laws (Feinberg 1987, 155).

Other scholars seek the positive case for criminal law’s existence in a relationship it creates or helps realize. They argue that any community has defining values, and it is the duty of criminal law to help ensure that those values are understood by its members, and that members act in accordance with them. It can do this by ensuring that people who wrong others cannot wrong them with impunity and thus reduce the risk of vindictive conflict in which all parties lose out (Duff 2011).

Many criminal laws are written to include specific elements that must be present in the perpetrator’s mind for the act to qualify as a crime. This is called mens rea. For example, murder is a crime against humanity, which means that only a human being can commit it. Other criminal acts have a mor 성범죄변호사 e limited definition, and are referred to as infractions or misdemeanors.


A wide variety of punishments may be imposed under criminal law. In principle, the law can pursue any of five objectives through punishment: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restoration. Jurisdictions differ on the value to be placed on each of these objectives.

Retributivists hold that punishment should communicate society’s condemnation of a crime in order to deter future crimes by the offender and others contemplating committal of similar crimes. In this view, a criminal sentence should be proportionate to the severity of the offense.

One variant on this view argues that deterrence and retribution are complementary goals, and that the aim of penal hard treatment should be to offer those who fail to be convinced by moral appeals to censure prudential reasons for abstaining from criminal behavior (Lightman 1990). However, critics of this account note that an attempt to accommodate both ends will undermine a fundamental ethical justification for punishment: that it is a means of conveying the moral condemnation of a crime.

Other concerns focus on the way in which modern criminal processes tend to exclude both offenders and victims, as well as many non-criminal members of society from any effective participation in their resolution (Christie 1977). This relegates their conflicts to the professionalised domain of the criminal justice system, with its disciplinary language and prejudicial assumptions. The same critique can be levelled at a range of coercive measures aimed not at punishing criminals, but at deterring them from offending: restrictions on their access to housing, employment and public benefits; continuing detention and monitoring; publication of their records, and so on (Hoskins 2011a: 75-79).


Prosecutions are the legal procedures that bring an accused person before a court of law for trial. They are carried out by the police or by prosecutor’s offices in countries that use either the common law adversarial system or the civil law inquisitorial system. Prosecutors are lawyers who have been trained in the field of criminal law and are considered suitable for this type of legal work (they are usually admitted to the bar or have a comparable qualification such as solicitor advocates). They work for prosecution offices, which are generally government departments with safeguards to ensure that they can operate without political interference.

After an arrest, the police present information about the case to a prosecutor who decides whether or not to file formal charges against the suspect (the decision may also be made at an initial appearance before a judge or magistrate). They are required to inform the accused person of the charges they face and, where possible, provide him with copies of any evidence they intend to rely on. Prosecutors are expected to make every effort to prove the existence of the alleged crime beyond reasonable doubt.

Unlike civil litigation where parties seek compensation for injuries or the disposition of property, a guilty verdict in criminal trials can result in the forfeiture or loss of one’s freedom and even life imprisonment. In addition to monetary fines and/or incarceration, offenders may also be subjected to government supervision and ordered to conform to particularized guidelines or restrictions.


A person accused of a crime can be tried before a judge or a jury. The judge or the jury can decide whether that person is guilty of committing a crime, and the judge will then give a sentence, called a verdict.

In a criminal trial, the state (in the form of county, state, or federal prosecutors) presents evidence to convince a judge or jury that the accused committed the crime. This is the prosecution’s burden, and the definition of what the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt varies by state and by country. During the course of the trial, prosecutors call eyewitnesses and experts to testify. Those witnesses are then subject to cross-examination by the defense, which can challenge the accuracy or reliability of their statements.

At the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, each side has a chance to present their closing arguments to the jury. Then the judge gives the jurors a set of instructions on the law, telling them what the evidence at trial shows and what they must do to reach their verdict.

The jury then deliberates, which is a methodical process that can last from a few hours to several weeks. When the jury reaches a decision, it informs the judge, who reads the verdict in court. The judge either pronounces a guilty or not-guilty verdict or takes the matter “under advisement” and returns to consider the evidence in more detail before announcing a verdict.