The Purposes of Criminal Law

The Purposes of Criminal Law

Learning Objective 2: Explain the two basic functions of criminal law.

A. Protect and Punish: The Legal Function of the Law

i. Primary function is to maintain social order by protecting citizens from criminal harm

a. Harms to individual citizens’ physical safety and property

b. Harms to society’s collective interests

B. Maintain and Teach: The Social Function of the Law

i. Expressing Public Morality

a. Reflect the values and norms of society

b. A society’s view of morality changes over time

c. Public morals are not uniform across the entire nation

ii. Teaching Societal Boundaries

a. Laws teach values as expressed expectations of society

b. Various forms of punishment can drive “social” order

III. Classification of Crimes

Learning Objective 3: Discuss the primary goals of civil law and criminal law and explain

how these goals are realized.

A. Civil Law and Criminal Law

i. Two categories of law distinguished by their primary goals

a. Criminal Law

1. Criminal justice system is concerned with protecting society form harm by preventing and prosecuting crimes

2. Persons found guilty of a crime will be punished by government with fines, imprisonment, or both

b. Civil Law

1. Includes all types of law other than criminal law

2. Concerned with disputes between private individuals and between entities

3. Proceedings in civil lawsuits are normally initiated by plaintiffs (the injured party) against defendants (the accused party)

4. Disputes may involve terms of a contract, ownership of property, or an automobile accident

ii. Guilt and Responsibility

a. A criminal court determines if a defendant is guilty of the criminal offense they have been charged with

b. A civil court is concerned with assigning responsibility, or liability, for the plaintiff’s injury or loss

iii. Burden of Proof

a. Two systems, criminal law and civil law, are completely separate in the modern legal system, but have similarities

1. Both attempt to control behavior by imposing sanctions on those who violate the law

2. Often supplement each other, because a victim may file a civil suit against an individual who is also the target of criminal prosecution

b. The burden of proof in criminal court is beyond a reasonable doubt, a much greater standard than what is applied in civil court

c. The burden of proof in civil court is preponderance of the evidence

B. Felonies and Misdemeanors

i. Crimes are classified as felonies or misdemeanors based on their degree of seriousness

a. Felonies are serious crimes punishable by death or imprisonment in a federal or state penitentiary for 1 year or longer

1. Capital offenses – maximum penalty is death

2. First degree felonies – maximum penalty of life imprisonment

3. Second degree felonies – maximum of 10 years of imprisonment

4. Third degree felonies – maximum of 5 years of imprisonment

ii. Types of Misdemeanors

1. Any crime that is not a felony

2. Punishable by a fine or imprisonment up to one year

3. Gross misdemeanors: punishable by thirty days to one year in jail

4. Petty misdemeanors: punishable by fewer than 30 days in jail

iii. Infractions

a. Petty offenses – punishable only by a small fine and does not appear on a wrongdoer’s criminal record

C. Mala in Se and Mala Prohibita

i. Mala in Se

a. Considered wrong even if there was no law prohibiting it

b. Said to go against “natural laws”

c. Against the “natural, moral, and public” principles of society

d. Examples include murder, rape, and theft

ii. Mala Prohibita

a. Refers to acts that are considered crimes only because they have been codified as such through statute

b. “Human-made” laws

c. Considered wrong only because it has been prohibited; it is not inherently wrong

d. Definitions can vary from country to country or state to state

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