Criminal Law Defined

Criminal LawCriminal law is defined as an area of law that not only dictates a standard of behavior, but outlines and imposes punishments when an individual does not comply with the law. Agents of the government, such as law enforcement officers, are able to enforce criminal law.

What is the function of criminal law?

Basically, criminal law is in place to regulate the actions of the people. The theory behind this is that morality alone doesn’t motivate people to comply with the acceptable social conduct, so there must be a system in place to impose penalties on those who don’t. Criminal law sanctions are imposed by the state.

Types of Criminal Law

There are three groups under the umbrella of criminal law.

  • Felony: This area of criminal law is the most serious one and focuses on the most significant types of crimes. Penalties of felony crimes include: large fines, prison time, and in some cases, a death sentence.
  • Misdemeanor: This area of criminal law involves less serious crimes, but still can result in some fines and jail time (typically a year or less).
  • Infraction: This area of criminal law involved illegal conduct. However, there are some that do not qualify these as real crime. One example of an infraction is a traffic infraction.

Effects of Criminal Law

Criminal law has five intended effects:

  • Retribution for crimes
  • Deterrence against crimes
  • Incapacitates the wrongdoer
  • Victim to obtain restitution
  • Rehabilitation of wrongdoer

Theories of Criminal Law

There have been a few general theories developed around criminal law, involving how criminal law is applied. These theories are focused on how the five above effects should be balanced out. One theory suggests that society can actually benefit from the rehabilitation of a criminal. Those who feel this way believe that the criminal justice system should put their entire focus on rehabilitating the criminal through applying criminal law. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum are those who believe that criminal law should simply punish the criminal and seek retribution for the crimes. In this case, criminal law would focus entirely on penalties and punishments.