Criminal Law For Beginners

Article About Criminal Law


Criminal law is one of two most important branches of the law (civil law being another). It includes the body of law defining crimes and offenses against the state, and regulating criminal procedures, and punishments for convicted offenders.  Criminal procedure provides the rules governing the investigation of crimes, the prosecution, and adjudication of alleged offenders and the punishment of people who are convicted.
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Criminal law is perhaps most well known because of the effects it can have on a society and on an individual if not respected and followed. The consequences are serious and can range from a few months to few years of jail time, to execution in certain states and territories, to things as harmless as council work and community help rendered (which could actually be hundreds of hours of unpaid work).
In most western countries, physical punishment is never handed out, but some Eastern countries have this as a standard response in their criminal law system. Where jail time is warranted, solitary confinement is an option. The length of the incarceration can vary a lot as aforementioned, and it really depends on a number of factors, such as those bearing on 'guilty mind' principles and the extent to which the society has been affected due to the crimes executed. In some countries, life-long imprisonment is not uncommon for serious offenders in the states where the death penalty has been outlawed.

Supervision may be necessary in some instances, and this can be in the form of house supervision (also known as house arrest), with the convicted parties required to conform to certain guidelines as part of parole or probation regimen. Money can be seized and property also. The convicted person or persons have very little say in exactly what is kept and what is taken in by the state of their residence or operation.

What is the goal of the criminal justice system?

Simply put, it is to deter crimes and/or establish punishment for crimes already committed. There are a number of ways punishment is performed:
  • Capital punishment
  • Physical or corporal punishment
  • Incarceration in jail or prison
  • House arrest
  • Parole and probation
  • Monetary fines
  • Community service
Five punishments of enforcement:
  • Retribution
  • Deterrence
  • Incapacitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Restitution

Actus Reus In Criminal Law

Actus Reus is known as a "guilty act". These undesirable acts need evidence that a crime was committed by an actual action, threat of an action, or lack of an action. In order for this to apply to a crime it needs to have a physical element. Actus Reus applies to dangerous situations due to a result of someone's actions. Strict liability crimes have the possibility of harsh punishment and thus there needs to be valid proof of mens rea (guilty mind).

Mens Rea In Criminal Law

Mens rea is the term for "guilty mind" in criminal law, meaning it was an intentional act to violate the law. However, under criminal, intention and motive are different. Innocent intentions do not undo the criminal intentions. Cases where the offender performs an act knowing it is dangerous are considered to qualify for mens rea. The courts view this as carelessness and if the offender did not know the risks, mens rea will be reduced.

Murder and Degrees Of Murder 

Murder is the most common targeted act under criminal laws. Depending on the jurisdiction, the severity levels for punishment of these offenses varies. Manslaughter is murder without malevolence present, usually committed by provocation or reduced capacity. Some cases where the murder is a result of recklessness may be considered involuntary manslaughter. First degree murder requires intentional murder fueled by hatred.

Public International Law 

Public international laws apply in cases where an entire area or society is affected by an atrocious crime. The history of this law dates back to WW2 with the Nuremberg Trials. These trials paved the path for a future in which an individual who commits a crime on behalf of their government are still held responsible for the crime committed and will not be granted sovereign immunity.


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