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Criminal Law Essay Sample

Criminal laws are rules or statutes meant for governing crimes such as a misdemeanor and felony. They define the prohibited conducts that may harm, endanger, or threaten the public welfare, and states the punitive measures that are imposed on people who break these laws. Criminal law involves all statutes written by parliament and deals with criminal acts that can harm the public and all the penalties involved. The law also addresses the procedure of charging and sentencing the defendants who have been convicted of the criminal acts. This is a law that regulates investigations, the charging, and the trial. It also includes appeal courts decisions which define and elaborate the law when unambiguous legislated rules are lacking. To find someone guilty of a criminal act the prosecution needs to prove that the defendant had intended to commit the act he/she is being accused of.

Typically, the criminal law is enforced by the state. A state prosecutor initiates the criminal proceedings. A substantive law relating to criminality must define the crimes that the offender committed and the established punishment for them. Criminal law defines the process in which the facts in a case are handled, the crime classification, and also how to charge the crime. This law also determines which category of courts hears what case and the prosecutor of those cases. Criminal procedures are what describe the processes by which the laws on criminality are enforced. For example: when to seize the evidence; when to search the accused; and when to investigate witnesses. Criminal procedure also involves the defendant’s constitutional and individual rights which include the right to remain silent, the right to a public and speedy trial by a competent jury, and the right to confront the accuser.

Enforcement of the criminal laws is with accordance with criminal statutes. These statutes vary from one jurisdiction to another and are the ones that describe the type the type of conduct that is regarded as criminal, the intent necessary to prove a crime, and the right punishment for a crime.

Every crime is a composition of crime elements which determines what punishment is to be imposed on a criminal. Some jurisdictions impose capital punishment when crimes are serious. Offenders may also be imprisoned, and in some instances, confinement is solitary. Some other criminal acts lead to government supervision such as probation and house arrest. In other cases, fines are imposed, or even the seizure of a criminal’s property and money. Five methods of law enforcements are generally accepted in various jurisdictions. These methods include deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, restitution, and rehabilitation. However, there are limits on the level of punishment that need to be imposed. For example, the constitution of the United States of America states that excessive bail and fines must not be imposed. It also prohibits the infliction of unusual and cruel punishment. Many other nations have similar provisions.

Retribution is a method that is applied such that the offender repairs or repays for that which he has intentionally destroyed. It is applied so that the criminals who have taken unfair advantage on others are also put at a disadvantaged position. Deterrence is aimed at imposing a significant punishment such that an offender is discouraged from repeating the criminal behavior. Other people in the society are also deterred from behaving in such manners. Incapacitation is a method aimed at locking the offenders out of the community in order to protect the public from their misbehavior. Rehabilitation is meant to transform a criminal into a meaningful person in the society. This method convinces the criminal that their behavior is wrong. Restitution is a method that is victim oriented. It aims at repairing any damage inflicted by the offender on the victim, mostly through state enforcement.

Criminal laws are imposed through the threat of punishment. Although the criminal law is too vast to sufficiently catalog, there are some aspects of it that are widely known. Criminal law prohibits certain undesirable acts, and thus to proof that a crime has occurred, we need to proof some act and this is known as guilty act. Guilty act is a physical element in committing a crime, and it is accomplished by an act or a threat of an act. Sometimes, an omission of an act can make somebody guilty, especially if it’s a legal obligation to act. The mens rea/ guilty mind is determined and proved when an offender knows that the act is dangerous and recklessly goes ahead to commit it. 


When a person consciously behaves in a way that causes death, he is regarded a murderer. However, a killing as a result of recklessness, where the individual lacks consciousness, is termed as manslaughter. In deciding whether a crime has been committed, there arises the issue of strict liability. Strict liability is defined as criminal liability without consideration of the defendant’s intent. With some crimes, negligence is sufficient to make somebody be punished. In most cases, crimes are those acts that include intentional acts, and an element of “intent” needs proving so as to find out if an act is criminal.

Offenses are classified into various types, e.g. fatal offences, personal offenses, property offences, and participatory offences so that punishment can be applied in a logical manner. All criminal acts can be broken down into mala ‘prohibita’ and ‘mala in se’ laws. Mala in se refers to the acts that are evil and morally wrong and are likely to be regarded as crimes in all jurisdictions. These crimes include felonies, corruption acts, and property crimes. Mala prohibita involves offenses that have no wrongfulness association. These acts are prohibited by acts of parliament, without which they won’t be considered wrong. They include unlicensed fishing, jaywalking, and driving on the wrong side of the road. The statutes involving mala prohibita are imposed strictly and there is no need to consider mens rea during punishment. Some people argue that mala prohibita offences are not real crimes.

Fatal offenses are the most serious crimes that include culpable homicide and murder. Murder is killing unlawfully and is the act that is mostly targeted with criminal laws. There are various grades of severity with regard to murder and this is dependent on specific jurisdictions, e.g., first degree murder is based on intent. Manslaughter is a lesser degree of murder committed without malice, and is caused by diminished mental capacity or sensible provocation. Murder is proved involuntary when settled insanity is evident. There have been several murder cases like that of O.J. Simpson. This is a case where O.J was accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her fiancée in 1994. However, after a lengthy and much publicized case, Simpson was acquitted.

In a 1957 Adams v Devlin J case, the defendant was a doctor charged with hastening the death of elderly patients through medication. He was acquitted as it was ruled that he was entitled to help relieve his patients’ pain through whichever method. In the 1961 A.G. of N. Ireland v Gallagher case, the defendant had the intent to stub his wife, and took whiskey only to boost his courage. He went ahead with his intention. However, it was still necessary to proof if he still had an intention during stubbing. In a 1981 Cunningham v HL case, guilty verdict was handed down although it had been established that the intention of the defendant was not to kill but to inflict bodily injury.

An 1886 case, Latimer v CCR involved a soldier who had the intention to hit another man they were arguing with but ended up hitting the landlady. A guilty verdict was handed down with accordance to the philosophy of transferrable malice. During the case of Burton v Islington Health Authority, it was ruled that an unborn child lacks discrete human personalities and therefore abortion does not merit a murder charge. In a 1989 case of Donnelly v CA, the defendant was charges of murder having accidentally fired a shot that killed the victim. The defendant was at a club and had no intention of killing the victim. During the trial, judge had asked the jury to evaluate the likelihood that such a discharge would indicate possible intention. The jury didn’t establish such likelihood and therefore a not guilty verdict was hand-down.

Personal offences are those that undermine the physical wholeness of someone’s body, for example, unlawful touching which is commonly known as the “crime of battery”. This crime does not include unintended jolts and knocks that happen in crowded places. Other forms of the “crime of battery” include non consensual intercourse and rape. There was a case in March of 2006 where a strip dancer had falsely accused three students of raping her at a party held on March 13, 2006. Many witnesses termed the alleged act as a hate crime. However, the three students were later acquitted for inadequacy in the evidence provided. Rape is said to have occurred when there is carnal knowledge without mutual consent. Carnal knowledge is contact with a woman’s genitalia, which does not necessary require that a penis is involved.

Other crimes are property offenses which prohibit crimes such as unlawful destruction of property, trespassing, embezzlement, conversion and, theft. Trespassing is unlawful entry into the property of another person. Several criminal statutes provide for penalization of these crimes. All property crimes involve loss of property value. Under the United Kingdom Fraud Act of 2006, fraud is abuse of position, false representation, and failure of disclosing information with intent to acquire money or property unlawfully. Finally, participatory offenses are unlawful acts where a person associates with criminality.

During the application of criminal law defendants are allowed to present their defenses. Defenses are meant to negate the crime elements, especially the intent element. Absence of defense proves that the crime was committed and requires punishment. There are several factors that may negate the intent element, e.g., insanity, automatism, and intoxication. Insanity is the lack of mental control where a person may act without the consent. Automatism is when a muscle acts without mind control and ends up causing an injury or harm. Defenses are what get people acquitted.