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Criminal Law

July 13, 2024

Criminal law serves its purpose in our communities by setting acceptable standards in our society. All people in our society are expected to obey certain laws under penalty of punishment. Each state and federal government has their own set of laws and each citizen is required to abide by such laws.

What is a Crime?
A crime occurs when a wrongful act is committed by a person against a state or federal government. When a crime is committed, it is against all members of the community, not just the victim. A victim cannot make the decision whether or not they chose to prosecute the perpetrator of a crime. It is the decision of the government, acting as the victim’s representative, whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the crime. If a person is convicted of a crime, it is punishable by imprisonment, fine, restitution or other penalty depending the state.

What are the Kinds of Crime?
Under our current law, known as common law, crimes are divided into two main categories; felonies and misdemeanors. The primary difference in the two is the seriousness of the crime and the punishment for the crime.

Different states follow different systems of law. Some follow common law, which means that judges follow judgments, or precedents, handed down by the other courts in that state. Others follow penal codes, which are based on the Model Penal Code but are often drafted with state-specific variations. (The Model Penal Code was developed by the American Law Institute and sets forth various definitions, elements and mental conditions required to prove specific crimes and guilt.) So far, about 36 states have revised their criminal law statutes to reflect those found in the code.

All states define crimes within the following basic categories:

Crimes against property
These are crimes involving property, like a house, car or money. The majority of crimes in this category involve taking another person's property without permission, for example, theft, burglary, robbery and shoplifting. Property crimes also include entering or damaging another person's property.

Crimes against a person
Perhaps the most obvious crime against a person is murder, and there are varying degrees of this crime. This category also includes assault and battery, kidnapping and abduction.

Crimes against the public
This category includes public drunkenness and loitering, violation of a noise ordinance and environmental pollution.

Crimes against the government
Such crimes include treason (the attempt to overthrow the government), jury tampering, perjury, tax fraud and bribery of a public official.

Anticipatory crimes
These are acts done with the intent to commit a crime--regardless of whether that crime successfully occurs--and include conspiring to commit a crime.

Privacy and technology crimes
The increase in technology advances has led to an increase in technology-related crimes like computer fraud, hacking and cyberstalking. Wiretapping also falls in this category.

Sex crimes
Sex crimes include rape and other criminal sexual conduct that may or may not involve sexual penetration. Many legislatures have been under fire in recent years to eliminate laws against such sex crimes as sodomy between consenting adults.

Drug crimes
The majority of inmates in the U.S. prison system are serving sentences for drug crimes. These offenses include everything from simple possession to manufacture and distribution.

"Victimless" crimes
This category of crimes is called "victimless" because the actions that fall under it don't necessarily hurt anyone except the criminal. The most common victimless crimes are gambling and prostitution.

Felonies and misdemeanors
Punishment for a crime depends on whether it is considered a felony or a misdemeanor. Felonies are generally considered more serious crimes, punishable by death or imprisonment for more than one year. Murder, rape and kidnapping are considered felonies. All other crimes, such as shoplifting and minor vandalism, are considered misdemeanors.



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